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Brocade is in the midst of a pretty good run with analysts and partners such as EMC, Hewlett-Packard and Hitachi heralding the company's storage switch business.

Earlier this month, Merrill Lynch issued a research note touting Brocade's improved competitive position against McData and Cisco. The analyst firm backed Brocade's Fabric OS upgrade, saying its "more significant than the market thinks."

Brocade's partners appear to agree with Merrill's bullish appraisal and have issued a slew of product updates this week, giving their shared partner a pat on the back.

EMC has started to ship Brocade's Fabric Manager 4.0 software with the switches it resells. EMC's ControlCenter SAN Manager software taps into the Borcade code to let users manage as much hardware as possible from one console.

New features with Fabric Manager 4.0 include automated system failure alerts, remote support and more detailed graphical representations of a user's storage area network (SAN).

Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) has qualified Fabric Manager 4.0 for its storage systems as well.

HP also announced a deal this week with Brocade. HP will sell Brocade's Secure Fabric OS to users for a few hundred dollars per port to secure their switches. The software gives admins tight access controls over the storage gear in a SAN. Basically, users can set up network-wide access controls as opposed to managing things device by device.

EMC is in the process of qualifying the Secure Fabric OS, said Tom Buiocchi, vice president of marketing at Brocade.

This broad industry support along with a relatively strong SAN market are the reasons some analysts have picked Brocade as a big winner in the near term.

In particular, Brocade appears to have a nice edge over Cisco, which should help it maintain a large chunk of the SAN switch market.

"We believe Cisco will eventually become a major player in the Fibre Channel switching market," Merrill Lynch wrote in a recent note. "However, given McData and Brocade's installed base and years in the field, we believe the ramp will be in very small steps in the next 12 months."

Brocade, however, does appear to have an immediate concern with Cisco. The company passed Merrill testing information on Cisco's MDS 9000 switch that showed the device malfunctioning in some instances. Cisco, Brocade and Merrill Lynch have looked into the issue and after a lengthy debate have placed the blame on testing gear made by a third-party.

These kinds of squabbles show Brocade is concerned about the threat of Cisco and rightly so.

Brocade hopes to give its business another boost later this year with the release of the first product to come out of the January acquisition of Rhapsody Networks.

Brocade will start shipping a type of intelligent switch that can sit in the middle of SAN. The idea is to let users install a product such as Veritas' Volume Manager on just the one switch instead of numerous servers. Brocade claims this will help make storage management easier by creating a central point of attack. In addition, it should cut down on the time it takes to patch storage management software and to install updates.

The company suggested that Sun Microsystems may be one customer interested in picking up the intelligent switch to complement Sun's own N1 Data Platform - formerly known as the Pirus switch.

"Don't draw the conclusion yet that the Pirus thing and Brocade's products are mutually exclusive," Buiocchi said.

Then he trailed off when saying something about no public announcements being made yet. Buiocchi was audible when he said the N1 Data Platform is really more of a NAS-head than anything else.

Brocade wants the storage and server vendors all to get along and thinks both have a place to play in next-generation network design.

Companies such as Sun are looking to build ASICs for handling TCP/IP stack processing and encryption right on their current server processors. Likewise, Brocade and others want to do the same thing inside their storage devices.

Brocade insists that both parties will work together just fine and will provide customers these types of network boosts in different parts of the data center. ®

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