Brocade enters HBA market via LSI

By Dave Simpson

This month, Brocade marked its entry into the Fibre Channel host bus adapter (HBA) market with shipments of re-branded adapters from LSI, putting the company in direct competition with market leaders Emulex and QLogic (which combined, have a market share of more than 80%). Last month, Brocade entered the iSCSI HBA market with cards based on its own technology.

The Dell’Oro Group market research firm expects the Fibre Channel HBA market to top $1 billion this year.

But many observers conjectured that the announcement was not so much about Brocade seeking to boost its revenues via HBA sales, or about gaining market share but, rather, it was more about being able to tell a soup-to-nuts SAN infrastructure story to gain a competitive advantage over its biggest rival-Cisco. In other words, Brocade might be shooting BBs at Emulex and QLogic, but its big guns are still aimed where they’ve always been-at the 800-pound networking gorilla.

At least that’s the take of one new-found competitor (and partner): “Brocade needs ways to compete against their biggest competitor, and this move gives them a bit of a differentiator,” says Mike Smith, executive vice president of worldwide marketing at Emulex, “but it’s not like there’s a new player in the market. We do not expect this to have an impact on our business, and we expect to continue to partner with Brocade on bringing best-of-breed solutions to market.”

Brocade’s 4Gbps Fibre Channel HBAs are available in single- or dual-port models and are compatible with the PCI- Express host bus. Although Brocade’s initial foray into Fibre Channel HBAs is based on LSI products, future generations (e.g., 8Gbps HBAs) will be based on Brocade’s own intellectual property and will have more-competitive differentiators, according to Tom Buiocchi, Brocade’s vice president of worldwide marketing.

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“At 8Gbps, Brocade will have their own technology, but the LSI deal gives them a jump-start into the HBA market and will give them a good feel for whether they can crack the very strong shell that QLogic and Emulex have built around the HBA market,” says Arun Taneja, founder of the Taneja Group consulting firm.

Buiocchi says that Brocade’s distribution strategy for its HBAs will be the same as it is for its switches: large OEMs (which could potentially include EMC, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard), and the channel (VARs and integrators). Approximately 85% of Brocade’s switches go through OEMs, while 15% go through the channel. In addition, Brocade will offer the HBAs via its Website.

Brian Garrett, an analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group, notes that Brocade’s HBA play is significant not in its short-term implications but, rather, in its long-term ramifications. “Besides the potential for improved pricing and a reduction in the number of vendors that customers have to deal with, Brocade could bring a lot to the party over time,” says Garrett. “Having a footprint at the server end of the wire in the form of Fibre Channel HBAs, along with an existing footprint within the fabric, provides Brocade with an end-to-end platform for the delivery of intelligent services running in the storage network, including online migration, virtualization, and replication. The intelligent ASIC technology that Brocade has honed over the years at the port level within switches can be re-purposed at the server end of the wire within HBAs.

“With that said,” Garrrett continues, “Brocade has a new challenge ahead as they start supporting the server end of the wire. Supporting HBA drivers is a pain for end users and vendors alike. Brocade needs to invest in a new level of infrastructure, expertise, and support services to help customers deal with the qualification, support, and upgrade of HBA driver software.”

Richard Villars, vice president of storage systems research at International Data Corp. (IDC), agrees that Brocade’s move goes far beyond just duking it out in the HBA space. “If Brocade were just getting into the HBA market they would be facing a rough road, but what they’re really trying to do is take advantage of the emerging opportunity created by the move toward bladed architectures and the explosion of virtual servers,” says Villars. “They see a confluence of things such as bladed architectures, virtual servers, and a shift toward high-speed interconnects like 10GbE and 8Gbps Fibre Channel. For Brocade to be competitive they need to be able to play in the architectures being built for those environments.”

In addition to Fibre Channel HBAs, Brocade last month began shipments of iSCSI HBAs based on technology gained in the company’s acquisition of Silverback Systems last year. The model 2110 iSCSI HBA initiators are compatible with Windows and Linux platforms.

Brocade also outlined plans for next-generation Intelligent Server Adapters, which company officials say will integrate HBA technology with SAN switching technology. Those products will include 8Gbps Fibre Channel HBAs and 10Gbps Ethernet adapters and will be available next year.

This article was originally published on July 01, 2007