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Analyze that: McData

It's been an interesting few weeks for our next "Analyze that" subject, McData. Senior analyst Nancy Marrone-Hurley of the Enterprise Storage Group describes McData's initial success at director-class switches, its positive strides to break into the lower port-count market and some future challenges in store for the vendor.

Since asked Nancy these questions before McData announced the acquisitions of Nishan and Sanera, we let her original answers in and then provided an update post-announcement.

Be sure to join Nancy at Storage Decisions 2003 in Chicago, September 10-12. At the conference you can participate in the "Rate the vendor" sessions and added presentations about how to create RFPs. This is a free conference if you qualify -- sign up here today.

Which of McData's products do you think will still be around in 3 years?
We expect that all of McData's products will be around in 3 years, however we expect that there will be a number of changes in both the switches and the management software. We expect that McData will introduce more intelligence into the switches, so that storage services such as replication and SLA management can be run from the fabric itself. We may see a change in switch architecture that will foster higher performance and intelligence on a port by port basis. As for the SAN management software, we expect to see more policy-based automation, enabling auto-provisioning of both capacity and bandwidth.

With the acquisition of Sanera, McData now has the highest performing director class product on the market. They will not have to engineer an architectural change to meet performance requirements. They do not intend to discontinue the Intrepid series, instead they will have more options available for customers.
Which products should the company think about discontinuing?
Although their director-class switches are currently the market leaders, I believe they will need to change the architecture on those switches to compete with some of the newer products on the market. I don't believe they should discontinue any of their current offerings at the moment, just enhance what they have today so they can remain competitive. Can you give a brief overview of McData's product line as it relates to storage?
McData focuses on providing solutions for SAN infrastructure, including director-class, mid-level and entry-level SAN switches. In addition, McData has a strong SAN management suite, including element managers, fabric management solutions and solutions to manage the entire heterogeneous SAN environment. Who or what do you see as McData's biggest threat?
McData will be getting hit hard by new director-class switch vendors. The biggest threat is definitely Cisco, which owns the IP networking space. Cisco had the clout to get every major OEM on board to sell their FC switches pretty quickly, and their architecture does perform better than McData's. Again, McData may be able to keep Cisco at bay if they came out with a new, high performance, intelligent architecture (or just bought one of the new companies like Sanera or Maranti that have the next generation technology).

Even after the acquisitions, Cisco is still the biggest threat. McData has definitely strengthened their position against Cisco (yes, the Sanera solution is better than the MDS)-- but Cisco still has the huge installed base of enterprise customers that they can leverage. However, McData has the experience, install base and strong reputation in the storage market. It will be very interesting to watch how this plays out over time. I do think that unless Brocade responds with a stronger high end product they will have a tough time competing with McData and Cisco in the core/director market.
In which direction is McData headed? Do you think it's the right roadmap for the company's future success?
McData tends to be a bit conservative, so although they have the right roadmap, I believe they will need to speed it up in order to remain competitive in the switch market over the next few years. Their software roadmap is very strong, if they execute well they could end up being a formidable software management vendor.

Now, they are providing end-to-end, intelligent storage switching infrastructure. Their end goal is to deliver a real-time storage services infrastructure, which will enable the storage utility. Their portfolio of solutions will enable that functionality.
How should storage managers approach buying from McData? Are they offering deep discounts? Is now a good time to buy?
Right now McData is driving down costs for low port-count switches, providing high-level functionality for low cost. For any user starting to build out SANs I would definitely recommend they look at the McData products -- they'll get strong feature functionality for a great price. Same in the mid-level switch market. If a user is looking to buy a director, I would suggest they request an update on the roadmap. There is no doubt that there are benefits to running storage services in the fabric, and users need to know that they will be able to run those services in the future with the products they buy today. No one wants to have to do fork lift upgrades to get the new features or to support new protocols. What has McData done this year to make itself a stronger company?
They have successfully penetrated market areas that were traditionally dominated by Brocade. McData was traditionally a director-class switch company. They had not really targeted the entry-level and mid-level switch markets in the past. This year they were very aggressive in going after that space and they are growing their market share in each area. This really helps McData financially, they are not as dependent on selling "big switches" in a tight economy.

When I originally submitted my answer to this question [above] -- McData had yet to announce the acquisition of Sanera and Nishan. There is no question that these acquisitions make McData a much stronger company. They now have the broadest portfolio on the market, and they also happen to have acquired a director class switch which leads the market in performance (and has some killer features like hard partitioning). These two acquisitions enable McData to offer end-to-end infrastructure solutions. We talk with a number of customers, and many would like to get their infrastructure solutions from a single vendor- McData is now in a position to offer that to customers. Customers now have an incredible amount of flexibility in choosing how to grow their SANs with McData products.

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