Brocade's new CTO takes aim at Cisco

Brocade is aiming to become Cisco's chief competitor for customers throughout the data center.

Just a few months ago, Dave Stevens began his second stint as CTO of Brocade. But this time, the company has much bigger aspirations. With the acquisition of Foundry having closed Dec. 19, Brocade is aiming to become Cisco's chief competitor for customers throughout the data center.

"I don't know if anyone relishes competing with Cisco on a day-to-day basis," Stevens said in an interview with Network World.

Brocade is already the top player by market share in the modular SAN switch market, ahead of second-place Cisco. Acquiring Foundry and its switching and routing technology gives Brocade a foothold in the enterprise LAN and service provider markets.

"The industry is ready for a second viable player that's able to deliver an end-to-end solution," Stevens says. "Foundry has a very broad product portfolio. For the markets we're attacking, I don't see any major product gaps."

Stevens was vice president and CTO of Brocade Transport Systems in 2003 and 2004, a position he gained when Brocade acquired Rhapsody Networks, where he had been vice president of business development.

Stevens left Brocade in the second half of 2004 to found the network security company Palo Alto Networks. Stevens was CEO until leaving in June. "I'm a technology guy," he says when asked why he left Palo Alto. "I like the stage of the company where you go from two guys at a card table up to having three or four sales teams and doing a couple million dollars per quarter."

Brocade is no start-up, but Stevens said he took the CTO position for the chance to work with CEO Michael Klayko again and for the challenge of extending the company's footprint outside the SAN realm and into the rest of the data center. Stevens re-joined Brocade in September and the company announced his hiring publicly in December. The first time Stevens worked for Brocade the CTO position was essentially split between him and another person, but now he has the CTO title all to himself.

Stevens spends his days on the integration of Brocade and Foundry at the product and system levels. He's also working to figure out how to best leverage the expertise of the formerly separate organizations, which have a combined 3,750 employees after what Stevens describes as a small amount of attrition following the transaction.

Noting that the whole IP space is new for Brocade, Stevens says the goal is to provide robust, cost-effective alternatives to Cisco in the switching and routing market for enterprises and service providers. But supplanting Cisco would be difficult, he acknowledges.

"I think Cisco is on their own agenda and they have their own strategy," he says. "I don't think they really are particularly concerned about us at this point. I'm sure we're on their radar screen."

Stevens also discussed the future of Fibre Channel over Ethernet, an emerging technology that lets the Fibre Channel storage protocol take advantage of 10Gigabit Ethernet networks.

Brocade is ready to release FCoE products but doesn't believe there is enough demand, he says. The primary benefit of FCoE is the consolidation of cables and adapters, but that can also be achieved simply by using blade servers, Stevens says.

"I don't think [FCoE] is going to be big in 2009. I think we could see some adoption in the back half of 2010," he says.

Brocade has publicly discussed its FCoE road map but is holding back on releasing a comprehensive product.

"It's imminent," Stevens says. "The product is in a condition that if the market demand was there, we could release the products next week if we chose to do that."

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