This syndicated post originally appeared at Yankee Group Blog » Zeus Kerravala.

Fabrics are all the rage today with data center archtiects and solution providers. Last year, at Brocade’s annual “Tech Day” analyst conference, the company unveiled its fabric strategy. This week at this years Tech Day, Brocade added to its fabric vision with the addition of its “CloudPlex” architecture. CloudPlex is Brocade’s open framework for organizations to build virtualized or cloud based data centers. Technically CloudPlex brings Brocade’s network and storage technologies together into a single, converged system.

From a vision perspective, CloudPlex will enable the merging of public, private and hybrid clouds through the open integration of compute, storage and networking blocks. The actual “unit” of service from the CloudPlex is a virtual compute block.

To simplify it, what CloudPlex does is it allows organizations to build multivendor, open virtual data centers and cloud infrastructures that are delivered in virtual “blocks” of data center resources. This would allow for movement of compute resources to be synchronized with the necessary network configuration changes. This is necessary to deliver on the vision of a virtual data center.

Competitively, CloudPlex is most similar to Cisco’s Unified Computing System (UCS) with one main difference – UCS is a vertically integrated solution where all the components are build and integrated by Cisco, which is consistent with Cisco strategy. With CloudPlex Brocade provides all of the network infrastructure and services and then relies on mainstream computing partners to deliver the server infrastructure that sits on top of the network. CloudPlex can be thought of as an open, multivendor version of Cisco UCS.

The vertically integrated nature of Cisco’s UCS do provide some short term advantages in that Cisco controls everything from end to end, making it easier to deliver on the vision of unified computing. Long term though, customers will likely want to use best of breed computing partners providing an edge to the Brocade strategy. Cisco’s challenge will be to build a multivendor solution to compliment its current vertically integrated solution.

The Cisco competitive angle aside, I do look at the vision of CloudPlex to be a significant enabler for broader use of virtualization and cloud. Currently, one of the big problems in data centers is that the infrastructure from the different compute vendors does not interoperate very well. CloudPlex can be deployed and used almost like “network middleware” where the network can provide a common set of networking services to the various computing stacks. This would allow data center managers to use whichever computing platform they felt met the needs of the business best.

The fabric wars are clearly underway. Last year we saw most of the network vendors outline their vision and strategy. I’m expecting 2011 to be a year where the solution providers demonstrate how their solution differentiates themselves from the rest of the field. CloudPlex and much of the positioning at Tech Day was a step in that direction for Brocade and we should look for more from the entire industry this year which should make 2011 an exciting year for data center networking.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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