Brocade and Emulex have kissed and made up, and produced a joint installation wizard software for both Brocade switches and Emulex host bus adapters (HBAs).
This teary tale marks the end of litigation (until 2007 anyway) between the two since Emulex inherited a case against Brocade when it bought Vixel in 2003. Brocade is the leader in the SAN switch market. Emulex one of the two main players in the HBA market. Servers talk to SAN storage via HBAs which link through Fibre Channel to switches and then the storage arrays.
Vixel was a developer of SAN switch technology and competed with Gadzook (remember them?), QLogic and Brocade until a couple of years ago. It developed switch-on-a-chip technology but the low-end SAN market did not take off and OEM design wins were hard to come by. Brocade prospered because of its installed base. Gadzook went under and Vixel failed to make much headway.
It went after its competitors with litigation alleging patent infringements, suing Brocade in May 2003 and QLogic in February of the same year. Allegedly, Brocade and QLogic used Vixel patented technology in their switches. Such legal manoeuvres didn't help Vixel, although the suits did, with hindsight, have merit. Vixel was bought by Emulex in November of the same year.
Emulex was interested in the use of Vixel's InSpeed switching technology inside storage arrays to get over the performance-choking effect of bus architectures as the array's I/O increased. The embedded storage device switching technology was proving popular amongst Vixel's customers and OEM contracts were inherited by Emulex. For example, BluArc, the NAS supplier, and Quantium. Other OEMs include Engenio (and through it SGI).
Around the same time Brocade bought Rhapsody, a maker of, guess what, switching products. This technology has been developed into an intelligent switching product inside the storage SAN fabric, one that can be used for storage operations such as backup and virtualisation.
Emulex quickly tidied things up on the legal front. It settled things with QLogic in June this year. QLogic agreed to pay royalties to Emulex. Now it has settled with Brocade but the patent infrigement suits are not resolved; instead they have been suspended until 2007. The two have announced what they call a three-year litigation standstill agreement and the current claims are dismissed without prejudice.
Brocade hasn't acknowledged the validity of the patents at issue and Emulex hasn't lifted the threat of future litigation off Brocade. It's an armed stand-off while they see if they can work together.
Mike Smith, exec VP world-wide marketing for Emulex, said: "Our co-development of the first multi-vendor SAN Management wizard is just the beginning of our new initiatives with Brocade to reduce the cost and complexity associated with storage area networks." Or, in non-marketingspeak: "Let's work together to each make a lot more money than we could alone by just suing Brocade."
The installation and management wizard is for smaller enterprises. We might expect joint management software to percolate up the enterprise scale and an integration between Emulex embedded storage array switches and Brocade's Rhapsody-based fabric switching platform. Whether Brocade will introduce embedded switches for storage arrays, or Emulex produce SAN fabric switches is another matter.
We might not be surprised if we subsequently find out that such potentially damaging turf invasions by either company have been tacitly ruled out.