QLogic announced that its new FCoE ASIC, code-named “Bullet,” is incorporated into the HP Virtual Connect FlexFabric 10Gb/24-port modules used inside of HP blade servers. This marks an important design win for QLogic as well as their stealthy entry into the Ethernet switch market.

I consider the approach to be stealthy because the press release avoided any reference to Ethernet switching. Makes sense, since answering questions about the big design win at HP is fantastic. Not so fantastic is answering questions about how much you’re going to invest in Ethernet switch technology, and how you’re going to compete against Cisco on their home court.

Given that Fibre Channel is evolving to become a protocol that runs over Ethernet (FCoE), QLogic must transform its Fibre Channel switch business…or exit the switch business. So the company appears to be pursing niches where they can avoid competing with the likes of Brocade, Cisco, HP, Juniper, and Arista. Two of those niches would be embedded blade server applications where the OEM brand is what sells the product, and FCoE applications where the company has leading-edge technology.

However, after looking inside the HP FlexFabric 10Gb/24-port Module to see a Broadcom 10Gb Ethernet switch ASIC sitting next to the QLogic FCoE switch ASIC, it raised many important questions regarding co-opetition with Broadcom, and how it would impact the QLogic switch ASIC and systems strategy. I believe the answers to the following questions are keys to understanding where QLogic is going with Ethernet switching.

Did QLogic spend millions on a new ASIC for OEM blade server module business? Are QLogic-branded FCoE switches and a new gross margin model on the way? Will QLogic become a merchant FCoE switch ASIC supplier to switch system manufacturers that use Broadcom switch ASICs? Is QLogic only designing Ethernet switch ASICs if they start with the letters “FC?” Will QLogic design-out Broadcom in the future to compete against single-chip solutions?

The bottom line is this: The FCoE switch design win at HP, the largest server manufacturer in the world, demonstrates that QLogic has found a seam in the Ethernet switch market where they can leverage their Fibre Channel expertise. But where do they go from there? I need answers to these questions. Contact me if you have and answer or two, or stay tuned for an update.