Long path ahead

Michael Klayko, CEO, Brocade Communications

In an interview, Brocade CEO Michael Klayko said Fibre Channel is here to stay but the company has no “religion” for it.

Brocade Communications remains a networking specialist in an industry where networks are becoming just part of a broader architecture for many vendors. A long time market leader in Fibre Channel SANs (storage area networks), Brocade acquired Ethernet switch maker Foundry Networks in 2008 and now offers to tie together all elements of a data centre or broader cloud infrastructure. CEO Michael Klayko has led Brocade since 2005. In this interview he talks about his company’s infrastructure and how it plans to keep up with bigger rivals in the market.

Q: There’s a lot of confusion about cloud computing. What can you say to clarify what’s happening there?

A: You get 15 to 20 different definitions, depending on who you talk to. I would say I have a private cloud in my data centre today. It’s highly virtualised, it basically abstracts the application away from the operating system, we’ve got a storage area network. From an asset utilisation standpoint, I have a cloud.

It’s a business decision. Let me give an example: from a virtualisation standpoint, when we talk about my business-facing applications, most of them are VMware. From an engineering standpoint, all my engineers have used Xen. In the old architecture, we couldn’t mix these things together. With today’s architecture, we can. I’ll call it the cloud, because we have shared storage underneath it and we use the same server base. So we’ve built something that solves our business needs. And I think that’s the real issue here.

Everybody today that I talk to is struggling with proper asset utilisation. So this big thing comes out called the cloud, and you don’t have to worry about it: It’s elastic, it allows you to put applications anywhere. It sounds great, and then the higher you go up in the C suite, executives all like to talk about it. They ask, why do you have to buy all these assets?

Why don’t you just buy a service level and get that from somebody else, and just utilise it like a utility? It sounds like utopia. We have 40 different applications that we buy from somebody else, and that run our company. We also have our own infrastructure. We look at it from a business standpoint: Can I get it from somebody else, utilise their infrastructure and utilise their offering faster, more economically and more efficiently than I can do it myself? To me, it’s math. I don’t get emotional about it, and my IT guys, now I’ve got them not getting emotional about it. And I think most businesses, when you really get to the core of it, are like that.

Everybody knows how to build a private cloud now. All the tools are getting there, and it’s all hinged around virtualisation. Then there is the element of public clouds and the benefit of public clouds. The secret sauce that we’re trying to get to is, how you merge those two. If you’re a retailer, and four months of the year, your volume goes up, you have to buy your infrastructure for the peak volume. What if you only had to buy it for the average volume you’re in the rest of the year, and then just went outside during those four months? To me, that’s a hell of a business application. Today, you can’t really do that … because nobody wants to allow you to have that infrastructure sharing out there until you have a long-term contract. It’s not truly elastic, because they want you to use it and then stay there. The technologies we announced, for example, this Cloud ID technology, will allow that elasticity.

This is going to take a decade. Guys that I deal with in the largest data centres in the world, we’re talking about things that they’re implementing three years from now. That three-year architecture is going to last for another five, seven or 10 years.

Q: Brocade has voiced strong support for Fibre Channel while also talking about unified fabrics. Is it really possible to embrace both?

A: There’s a lot of money invested in Fibre Channel. It works really well. All that customers want, really, is the ability to have flexibility going forward. I don’t care which protocol is underneath, if it’s Fibre Channel or (FCOE) Fibre Channel over Ethernet, or (iSCSI) Internet Small Computer System Interface, or (NAS) network-attached storage or Ethernet. It doesn’t matter. We have to build that technology that allows that customer the choice. What’s going to happen is, over any period of time, someone’s going to go through some type of change, they’re going to acquire somebody, they’re going to divest, they’re going to build a new data centre, and at that time they’re going to make a different architectural decision. We give them the tools to do it.

Right now, when you look at virtualisation, and you need this shared storage environment underneath it, it’s mostly Fibre Channel. Virtualisation’s not going away. You’re going to need more shared storage, which means you’re still going to have the need for Fibre Channel no matter what. For us and our development teams, we don’t have religion anymore. Today, when you look at the storage providers who build the subsystems, their highest-performing products are all block storage products. Youlook at some of the emerging guys who are growing fast, like NetApp and Hitachi, their highest-performing is NAS. Perfect. Let them grow. I’m that ultimate Rosetta Stone that sits in between them to make sure that it all seamlessly works.

Storage is hard. The ability to move 500 VMs with 10TB of storage and keep it all locked together, is hard. And I think there are only going to be a couple of us able to do it. Everybody needs choice, and competition is good because it creates choice. I like our chances because, if you understand the storage side, you have a better chance of winning than if you understood just the server side.

Q: As a CEO, what lessons do you take from what has been happening at Cisco?

A: Focus. I’ve known John for a long time, and he’s a big company, he has to grow and so forth. For me, I have trouble keeping track of the product lines that I currently have, and all I am is a networking company. So I think anybody just needs to focus. If you look at any company that’s been successful, that’s what they’ve done. We haven’t varied our strategy. I get accused of being very boring and actually not being able to make PowerPoints, because my strategy slides haven’t changed in well over six years.

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