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Dell brands Brocade Fibre Channel, Ethernet, FCoE devices

Looking to expand into the data center and ward off Cisco's move into the server market, Dell signs OEM deal with Brocade for full line of storage networking switches and adapters.

Dell Inc. and Brocade Communications Systems Inc. are expanding their relationship, with Dell planning to rebrand a broad array of Brocade's Fibre Channel (FC), Ethernet, and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) switches and adapters.

Executives of both companies said Dell will begin shipping the branded Brocade gear with its storage and server products around December. Dell already sells embedded Brocade FC switches, but the new OEM deals calls for it to add newer Brocade DCX Backbone FC directors, FC host bus adapters (HBAs), FCoE switches and converged network adapters (CNAs), Gigabit and 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE) switches, and management software. Brocade expanded into Ethernet switching when it acquired Foundry Networks last year.

This is the second OEM deal with a major server vendor that Brocade has scored for its Foundry switches, following its agreement with IBM in April. Both deals are seen as at least partly in response to Ethernet switch leader Cisco Systems' launch of its Unified Computing System (UCS) platform that competes with the server vendors.

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Dell sells Cisco switches, but Praveen Asthana, Dell's vice president of enterprise storage and networking, said his company wants to give customers a choice rather than lock them in to one platform – as Cisco's critics say the UCS does with its proprietary design. Asthana also said the Brocade relationship will include future product development, although he held the door open to adding other Ethernet and FCoE partners such as current HBA partners QLogic Corp. and Emulex Corp.

Dell also plans an OEM relationship with Scalent Systems Inc., which makes software to help manage virtual servers connected to the storage-area network (SAN) and local-area network (LAN).

"Our competitors have talked about creating a converged infrastructure based on a proprietary stack," Asthana said. "Customers tell us they want the ability to have choice. They don't like the idea of a proprietary end-to-end stack."

Dell already has its own brand of low-end Ethernet switches but Brocade's devices are designed for enterprise use. Aaron Rakers, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus Equity Research, sees the deal as part of Dell's strategy to move deeper into the data center while pushing back against Cisco. "Dell hopes the deal will allow it to target large customers with branded switches along with its server systems," Rakers wrote in a note to clients today. "This is likely to be viewed as the result of Cisco's push into the blade server market."

Dell sells EMC Corp.'s Clariion midrange Fibre Channel disk arrays and Celerra NX4 NAS along with its own EqualLogic iSCSI SANs, PowerVault NAS and direct-attached storage (DAS). The iSCSI and NAS products will benefit from Brocade's 10 GbE switches, with Fibre Channel over Ethernet devices likely to be implemented further down the road.

Asthana said he's seeing "a lot of interest" from Dell customers in 10 GbE for iSCSI (EqualLogic arrays don't support 10 GbE yet). As for FCoE, he said "I think we're seeing interest, but I'd be hard pressed to give you a good prediction on when widespread adoption will come."

Added Dave Stevens, Brocade's chief technology officer: "There are lots of trials and interest around FCoE, but not a lot of volume. We don't see big volume adoption until 2011."

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