From the Too-Little, Too-Late Department
Eyes glazed over at the news that Brocade is buying McData. The Wall Street Journal reported (subscription required), that Brocade CEO Mike Klayko told analysts that “customers are frustrated by equipment that doesn’t work together well.”
Well, duh. Network equipment? Double duh.
The Wages Of Sin
Fibre Channel has never fulfilled its early promise. Partly because it isn’t quite a network – it’s a channel – and mostly because everyone imported storage business tactics. The chief tactic: minimal interoperability with other storage vendors to ensure lock-in.
The problem is that applied to a network, vendor lock-in means you don’t get the advantages of network economics. In a nutshell, the value of the network increases as it grows while the cost of connecting drops. That is why all networks get linked: the interconnection cost cheap compared to what has already been spent, while the benefits are huge. Have you heard of Cisco?
Virtuous Cycle Of Network Economics
A single telephone is worthless. Two connected telephones is more valuable. A billion connected telephones is invaluable. And due to learning curve effects the cost of that billionth telephone is much lower than the first.
Fibre Channel Inflection Point
Consolidation usually occurs in maturing industries, as it has in disk drives, for one or more of several reasons, such as increasing capital intensity (semiconductors), economies of scale (automobiles), or acquiring customers (soft drinks). In this case though it is happening because Fibre Channel is beginning a long decline.
Customers have seen an anemic ROI for their billions in FC investment. Without network economics, FC cannot compete with Ethernet over the long term. And now the long term has arrived.
Can This Technology Be Saved?
Not likely. Ultimately, it is the folks that connect to the network who must decide that compatibility is in their interest. Remember IBM’s very silly anti-Ethernet Token Ring network? IBM pushed it hard and lots of their most trusting customers bought it, only to face a painful migration a few years later. That is how you turn trusting customers into suspicious customers.
Storage vendors do not believe in interoperability, do not support it, and have no interest in encouraging mixed vendor FC infrastructures. So design and management is unnecessarily painful and expensive.
On the ethernet/IP/iSCSI side of the house however, compatibility with the network is the only option. Network and semiconductor economics are implacable. In ten years, Fibre Channel will be one of those legacy technologies used only where niche economics or customer sentiment dictate.