The battle for the data centre has just become more interesting.

Brocade’s Brocade One architecture spearheaded by its new technology, Virtual Cluster Switching, VCS, at the core (because you’re nothing without a TLA of course. This lays down a direct challenge to Cisco, which has been making aggressive moves to owning the data centre. Brocade's strategy is similar to Juniper's - in that it sees partnerships with other vendors as the underlying approach.

There's the welcome return of an old slogan - just as Sun used to say "the network is the computer", Brocade has updated this "the network is the data centre" it says - a demonstration as to how Brocade sees the data centre at the heart of everything.

All presentations around the way that enterprise networks are coalescing around the data centre contain at least two of three words: virtualisation, cloud and convergence - so Brocade scored top marks in buzzword bingo when it unveiled all three from the off. But under the jargon is a serious proposition.

The Brocade vision is all-encompassing architecture, reducing the layers of complexity and collapsing several layers such as the aggregation layer into one switch. Paul Phillips, Brocade's UK manager thinks that this emphasis on simplicity is going to be a winner. "We're going to make things simpler for customers by collapsing everything to single switch," he says.

Phillips adds that the new archictecture will also work to eliminate the limitations of Ethernet by adding management capabilities and smoothing out the latency issues. Drawing on the background of Foundry, a company it acquired in 2008, it presents itself as a company that has a complete vision for the data centre.

The Brocade approach is very similar to the one announced by Juniper with its Stratus project and both companies are coming from the same basic premise: the current set enterprise architecture is no loner adequate to support virtualisation.

What makes the whole battle more interesting is that at the end of last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that Brocade was up for sale - in fact, there was speculation that Juniper could be one of its buyers. We hear little of that now - the company definitely appears to be off the market as Brocade attempts to capture what could be a lucrative market.

It's clear that the company that Brocade really has in its sights is Cisco. The latter is aggressively pursuing the data centre market and has teamed up with VMware and EMC to help it meets its goals.

So, users have a clear choice. They can opt for Cisco - which means buying Cisco (and having VMware as its virtualisation platform and EMC for its storage) or going with the likes of Brocade or Juniper, with a more open approach. Given that the whole trend since the 80s has been to move away from vendor lock-in, the latter two must believe that the tide is with them. Certainly, CIOs can't complain about the lack of choice as they move their infrastructures into a new era.



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