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Brocade's future increasingly shaky, say users

Of the three major SAN switch providers -- Cisco, Brocade and McData -- users at Storage Decisions fear the most for the future of Brocade.

NEW YORK -- Users at the Storage Decisions show this week voiced strong concerns over the future of Brocade Communications Systems Inc., arguing that the company's financial woes, management turmoil and weaker products raise questions over its staying power.

Brocade is currently under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the U.S. Department of Justice for the way it accounted for stock options from 2001 to 2004. The company is still in the process of restating earnings from 2001-2004 and on Sept. 21 requested a second extension from Nasdaq, until Nov. 15, to file its Form 10-K/A for fiscal 2004 and its quarterly reports for the second and third quarters of fiscal 2005. Brocade's ability to list on Nasdaq is hanging in the balance, pending a decision by the listing panel.

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"What they [Brocade] are going through with their financials is a big black eye for them," said Edwin Alsberg, director of IS operations at The Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. "At the management level, we have a lot of concern over who's going to be left in a year … there's only room for two vendors."

The Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. has roughly 750 McData Corp. 6064 ports, 1,000 Brocade 12000 ports and 1,000 ports on Brocade 24000s. Both the McData 6064s and Brocade 12000s are leased, whereas the 24000 the company owns. It's not clear to him, yet, which vendor he will keep.

"I like the people at Brocade, I like the interface, I like the management of it -- the zoning and aliases are more intuitive than McData's front end, but we were fairly disappointed with the 12000 product … The configuration wasn't very redundant, hot-code load was a promise -- we've only just got to the version that supports that," Alsberg said.

Meanwhile, John Strano, manager for capacity and performance management at Pfizer Inc., is very clear who he believes the winners and losers will be. "Cisco [Systems Inc.] was very strong out of the gate… I think we all know who the loser is going to be … Brocade has weaker products and internal issues," he said.

Longevity in the business seems to be helping McData's case in some shops. "Both have good products, but McData has more experience in the market … Brocade's management is new," said a Unix administrator with Liz Claiborne Inc.

And it seems that Brocade can't count on smaller customers to keep it in the game. At the low end of the market, users tend to buy whatever switches come with their storage and are rarely aware of who their switch vendor is. A case in point is EcoPetrol, the government-owned petroleum company in Columbia that has a 24-port SAN from Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP). "I believe our HP XP came with a Brocade switch," said Jairo Alberto Cardenas, storage specialist at EcoPetrol.

But not everybody is ready to relegate Brocade to the bottom of the pile. Michael Myrick, director of storage at Merrill Lynch & Co. is on the fence about the company's future. "Brocade has so much market share in the midrange, McData, with CNT, is starting to get its act together. Cisco does have better feature functionality today -- it's hard to tell," he said. Approximately 60% of Merrill's 20,000 to 30,000 SAN ports are on Brocade switches and directors so the company has a lot riding on Brocade's future.

Alsberg said he would be happy to see a marriage between Brocade and McData. "I would hate to see either of them fall off the map."

What seems to be clear in most peoples' minds is that Cisco will not only prevail, but will dominate this market. "They are the bear and can leverage thousands of IP deals -- there's no stopping them," said John M. Tillotson, systems engineering at Franklin Templeton Investments.

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