WASHINGTON – If storage and compute power can be purchased on a usage-based pricing model, like a utility, then why can't networking follow the same path? Moreover, why shouldn't that network run on an open architecture that fosters competition among multiple service providers?
That's Brocade's pitch to the federal government – a market that the networking vendor is targeting aggressively in its bid to gain share from its larger rival Cisco Systems.
For weeks, Brocade has blanketed subway stations in the nation's capital with its Network Facts ad campaign, touting the cost savings and efficiency gains to be won with a pay-per-use networking environment built on open protocols to support a multi-vendor environment.
Last week, CEO Lloyd Carney made the rounds in town, meeting with military and civilian officials and speaking at the Federal Forum 2014, which Brocade co-hosted. In all of those meetings, Carney said, CIOs and other IT leaders stressed the severe budget pressure under which they've been operating.
"There's not more money for you, right? There's not more resources," Carney told his audience of federal IT workers. "No one that I've talked to in the federal space thinks somehow [the] economy turns around [and] you're going to get more money for what you're doing. You have to do more with less, and a big part of what we are doing here is enabling you to do that."
Open Networking Offers Savings and Flexibility
Earlier this year, Brocade commissioned a survey of federal network managers. They reported that the environments they manage are overly complex – and that simplified networks could reduce downtime and save the government billions.
In that poll, respondents cited a variety of reasons why the networks they manage continue to grow more complex, including rising numbers of users, server virtualization and cloud computing, more mobile workers and data center consolidation.
To Brocade, that translated into an endorsement of its approach to networking: The use of open, non-proprietary standards to support interoperability. As the argument goes, allowing multiple vendors into the network environment will spur competition among service providers, driving down prices and avoiding the trap of vendor lock-in that federal IT workers take pains to avoid when weighing their options for moving to the cloud.
"Single-vendor architectures are less efficient. This is not debatable," Carney says. "When you have multiple vendors trying to solve for a problem, you get innovation."
Carney positions Brocade as a disruptive force in the networking field, championing the open, inclusive approach the firm pushes with its equipment. He says he sees historical precedent in the demise of Wang Laboratories, a dominant computer vendor in that flourished in the 1980s with a line of word processors but "completely missed the PC." Similarly, Carney attributes the recent descent of BlackBerry to the willingness of Apple and Google Android to offer up their platforms for developers to build the apps that have added immense value to the handsets.
"In any industry, the dominant player never leads the transition," Carney says. "The last person you should expect to take you to the next level of networking is the current dominant player. It has never happened in the history of technology – and it's not happening now."
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When IT vendors make their case to a federal audience, cost is invariably a part of their pitch. So, too, with Brocade, which takes a cue from the metered-pricing model that cloud providers commonly offer.
In the networking space, that means letting customers "flex" up and down the number of ports they pay for. So, in a week of heavy network congestion, an agency might pay for and use 2,000 ports. Then, if traffic drops off, the same agency might be billed for half that the following week.
"Your network is a utility. You pay for the electricity you use. You pay for the water you use. Why not pay for the networking you use?" Carney says. "The storage guys do that. The server guys do that. Why not networking guys? Why shouldn't we offer the same flexibility for your data center as a service – as a utility – that everybody else does?"