Brocade Communications Systems may not get as much press as rivals Cisco and Hewlett-Packard, but it is building a solid following among services partners and good reviews for its focused networking push.
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Several networking VARs said the company is making the right moves with its effort to push more professional services through partners and limiting the number of named accounts it services directly.
One of Brocade's goals is to reduce the number of named accounts that it sells and services directly to between 200 and 250 companies worldwide, said Barbara Spicek, vice president of worldwide channels for San Jose-based Brocade. Brocade would not disclose how many named accounts there are now, but several partners put that number at about 850 to 1,000 worldwide.
Most IT solution providers want and need to augment product sales revenue with higher margin IT services, and they prefer to work with vendors that will not compete with them for that business. On that score, Brocade gets great marks, several partners said.
"They really are driving more professional services through their partners … [and] they intend to be much more active [on that front] than our other manufacturer partners," said Rodney Turner, president and CEO of Layer 3 Communications LLC, an Atlanta-based Brocade partner. He said Juniper Networks is also fairly aggressive pushing partner services, and Avaya is not as proactive on this as the old Nortel was.Spicek said Brocade now fields about 70 Professional Services Partners (PSPs) worldwide and wants to raise that number to 160. That select approach is something else partners like. Other networking vendors sometimes recruit many more VARs than are needed to profitably serve a geography, resulting in lower margins.
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Given the tech M&A mania swirling lately with HP, Oracle and other companies buying up smaller innovative providers, there are always rumors about an acquisition of Brocade by Dell or another bigger company. Brocade partners, however, said the company's leadership position in SAN switching and its acquired Foundry IP networking franchise make it strong on its own. Brocade also has big OEM pacts with IBM and EMC.
"There are two big plays now: Cisco and Brocade," said J. Dee Flamming, director of sales for Solid IT Networks in Argyle, Texas.
"Cisco owns the IP space, which is an ocean, but Brocade owns the SAN space. … It's a great lake but they own it. They invented it and then they bought Foundry for its IP stuff and are trying to converge what they did best with something that's a little different, while Cisco is trying to bring the SAN piece into what they already own."
Some Brocade partners also say the company's virtual cluster switch, due out this year, will bolster its reputation as an innovator. "That will put Brocade in the driver's seat in [data center] consolidation and convergence," said Jamie Shepard, executive vice president of International Computerware Inc., a Marlborough, Mass., Brocade partner.
Shepard said Brocade's channel personnel impressed him with their ability to work with his sales teams on calls. "They're making calls as if they're ICI. It's very impressive," he said.
He also said Brocade, unlike some of its big competitors, does not pressure partners to get exclusive and does not badmouth its competition.
The other 800-pound gorilla in networking gear is HP, which is trying to integrate 3Com with its existing ProCurve line, a move that is causing some consternation among some ProCurve partners and customers.
"A lot of these people specifically avoided 3Com and now are afraid it'll be shoved down their throats," said one VAR who carries both ProCurve and Brocade wares. He thinks that anxiety could benefit HP rivals in the short term.
Ken Presti, principal analyst with Presti Research and Consulting Inc., said Brocade can make hay while HP sorts out its own networking story. "What I hear from VARs is 'how do I keep from getting caught in the middle [of Cisco and HP?].' While all this brinksmanship continues, some partners will land on either side of the HP/Cisco aisle, but there will also be partners who back away and look at other vendors that may not have the full soup-to-nuts solution but offer very good pieces that they can pull together."