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Big Blue, Brocade to show united front to Cisco

IBM to OEM Brocade's Ethernet gear

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IBM is about to supply Brocade's Foundry-based networking products, according to persistent rumours reported by Reuters and others.

Neither company has commented on this matter, although Brocade has said that it expects to benefit through closer ties with server partners, following Cisco's entry into the server market.

IBM is said to be distancing itself from Cisco, following Cisco's entry into the blade server and unified data centre server system market with its UCS product. This combines server, server virtualisation software, and networking in one product, with certified storage products virtually giving a one-stop buy for what has been called a re-invented mainframe. This product is intended to access shared storage by Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) protocol rather than today's physical Fibre Channel fabric.

IBM has a mainframe market it dominates and is also a leading supplier of blade server systems. It cannot be best pleased that a supplier it uses for networking products has entered a core IBM hardware market. If data centre customers are going to buy unified blade server + Ethernet networking + storage + server virtualisation systems then IBM needs to be able to supply them. IBM has the blade server and basic storage components. Like every other supplier it will OEM VMware and Microsoft's Hyper-V plus a Linux hypervisor, but it lacks Ethernet switches to fit in such systems.

IBM has strengthened an existing deal with Blade Network Technologies with the two companies cross-licensing each other's patents. This doesn't give IBM FCoE technology though.

IBM already supplies Brocade Fibre Channel storage area network (SAN) fabric switches and thus an extension to Brocade Ethernet products, which Brocade gained with its Foundry acquisition, would be fairly simple. Brocade is an FCoE supporter - it has announced a top-of-rack FCoE switch - and, once IBM's storage products have a native FCoE interface, an end-to-end FCoE connection could link blade servers and storage boxes through these Brocade switches.

IBM resells NetApp storage products as its N series and NetApp has already demonstrated a native FCoE interface on one of its products.

The speculation is that IBM will resell Brocade's FCoE-capable Ethernet switches and routers, with an announcement expected in the next few weeks.

Access to FCoE technology is becoming a key requirement for companies supplying unified data centre systems, and is thought to be a driver in Broadcom's attempted acquisition of Emulex. ®

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