John Kelley is a happy man these days. As president, chairman and CEO of McData, he is seeing the CNT acquisition complete, the competition from Cisco and Brocade being withstood, more than withstood in fact, and a new technical architecture for directors emerging.

We wrote a year ago that it looked as if McData could be an acquisition target. We weren't totally wrong. Kelley said: ""I'm stunned that Cisco didn't buy us."

Now things are looking up. Particularly on the competition front. Back in April Brocade VP Ian Whiting said: "The focus for us and Cisco is to take share from McData and grow the market." Kelley says neither Brocade nor Cisco have achieved this: "We know for Brocade we were eating their lunch in the field."

McData also seems to have the measure of Brocade technically, at least in a performance sense. Kelley says that when EMC's virtualisation product, InVista, ran on Brocade hardware, the performance, "was just 44,000 instructions per second." McDATA achieved 600,000 instructions per second and Kelley said, "It totally blew people away."

(However, Brocade is completing the wholesale transition of its product line to 4 Gbit/s capability. McDATA has no 4Gbit/s product, relying on 2 gig technology for everything but interswitch links. It is working on a 4 gig embedded switch for HP with QLogic.)

And Cisco? "Cisco is very formidable competition. It gets a lot of hype. We sell more than Cisco does each quarter in directors on new business, maybe three to one. ... We generally average 1,000 a quarter. Cisco may do 250 a quarter."

Brocade has recently announced a move into server application administration. What does Kelley think of this? "I think people in the industry are mystified by what Brocade is doing."

CNT acquisition
Why did McDATA buy CNT? The CNT director is being phased out with McData's Intrepid directors the preferred choice for customers. If it wasn't for the technology what was behind the purchase?

Kelley said, "The CNT model is really about services - SLAs, etc. When putting together networks that are the best of breed CNT gives us the ability to approach many more enterprises around the world." The joint installed base of CNT and McData puts the combined company in a large number of enterprise data centres. Kelley thinks that very few suppliers are present in more datacentres than McDATA now.

"In the UK McData and CNT have 100 percent of the installed directors in some verical categories such as finance and retail. It's hard to argue that anyone, other than IBM, is in more datacentres than McData/CNT. Perhaps Sun and StorageTek."

What is the immediate challenge? "Our challenge is to get these two companies integrated. And we must begin to replenish our cash position Those are two necessities.

And after that? "I think you'll see us continue to invest there." There could be more acquisitions.

Director directions
Brocade has announced that OEMs are qualifying its 256-port, 4Gbit/s 48000 director. McData's Intrepid 10000 also has 256 ports with 2Gbit/s bandwidth and 10Gbit/s inter-switch links. Does the future lie in the traditional doubling of port count, with a 512 port box ahead?

Kelley thinks not: "Should we go to 512 and then 1,024 ports? Is bigger really better? What we're doing is making a very sophisticated backplane. It uses McData, CNT and Sanera tehnology and is like Lego." There are 1U-high modules that plug into the backplane and provide storage services, such as SAN modules, NAS gateways, routers, IP links, virtualisation and security. (We might also think of data protection modules and virtual tape libraries and that sort of thing.)

Kelley says: "Turn it sideways and it looks like a blade server. You build it to scale as you need. It implies using third-party product - we can't be all things to all people. Extreme, Foundry and Jupiter could provide modules, and we have talked to them. We've also talked to IBM and EMC about this at the executive level."

"We're letting modules be added, so that new technology can be added. The technology in it can be adapted. This is much more important than having 512 or 1,024 ports per box."

"We're working on this as we speak. It's on a two or three year architecture horizon. The backplane can't come out overnight. It's the most sophisticated part of the engineering."

Kelley says McData has also talked to large customers, such as Wells Fargo, Verizon, Citibank and BT: "They are interested in this. It simplifies things for them and makes them more manageable."

Storage intelligence location
There is an on-going debate about where the storage intelligence should be located. This is the intelligence that carries out storage virtualisation and other functions. HDS and Sun think it should be in what IDC calls network storage processors attached to the front of drive arays like the HDS TagmaStore and Sun's StorEdge 6020. McDATA, Brocade and Cisco think the best place for it is in the fabric, executing on intelligent fabric platforms.

Several storage resource management (SRM) products exist, but don't execute on the intelligent fabric platforms. Kelley says: "McData will be there when the SRM software suppliers decide to put their storage applications into the fabric."

Kelley asserts that the in-fabric approach will ultimately win out. He thinks that storage networking and general networking will converge. But: "Storage suppliers have shown little willingness for their products to be part of a ubiquitous network. The SNIA does this. The network will hide the (storage supplier) differences. It will make proprietary products interoperate."

"I do believe that IP networks are converging with SANs. I'd be surprised if anyone is using the term 'SAN' in five years." This is a song he's been singing for some time.

Unlike Brocade, McData is sticking to its SAN fabric knitting. It is builiding potential alliances with Cisco networking competitors and sees a bright future in fabric directors that are not just massive data switches but comprehensive storage networking and management platforms.

It is perfectly feasible, from a simple back-of-the-envelope technology perspective, to think about having a wide area file system module in the new McDATA directorial backplane. It is a quite open architecture. And if it operates in world where storage and general networking have converged then McDATA's Kelley will be even happier than he is at present.