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February 16, 2010

Brocade-McAfee: Me Too or True Love?

Brocade today announced that they have entered into a “strategic relationship” with McAfee. The announcement calls for joint development by both companies to make McAfee’s ePO work with Brocade’s network management tool. There will also be further interoperability between McAfee firewalls, NAC and other network products with Brocade/Foundry’s entire campus line up.

To be perfectly frank, my first reaction was so what. This is hardly McAfee’s first “strategic relationship” with a network infrastructure provider. Previous announcements with HP and Extreme being prime examples. In fact McAfee has made a bit of a reputation over the last two years of announcing strategic relationships, that with hindsight seem more like dressing CEO Dave DeWalt in a purple dinosaur suit.

So I asked the Brocade folks why was this different? Did McAfee just tell them “me love you long time” and whisper some other sweet nothings in their ear? I was told no, absolutely not. There is actual money and resources that both sides have pledged as skin in the game for this one. From high to low, there are multiple points of contact in both organizations that are tasked to making this a success. They are going to make the ePO integration work. 

All of this sounds fine and dandy. Frankly I heard the same things before. The HP ProCurve folks swallowed the same thing. My friends from Extreme Networks were telling me the same things when that deal was announced. Well HP ProCurve went out and bought 3Com and Tipping Point. There went that McAfee strategic deal. Having my own experience with Extreme’s sales channel, I don’t think that deal is on fire either.

Frankly, unless you believe the sweet nothings McAfee is whispering to Brocade here, why should this one be different? . But there are other factors to look at here.

From Brocade’s point of view their research has convinced them that security has become a primary deciding factor in network infrastructure purchases. If they are going to compete with HP, Juniper and Cisco (whose own  security strategy seems adrift recently), they need a strong story on security. Historically, Foundry/Brocade has been a Switzerland when it came to security. They were big supporters of open standards and worked with any security company that supported those same standards. They now realize that that is not a winning strategy. Brocade has to put a stake in the ground if they are going to compete with HP, Juniper and the rest. Brocade is a monster of a company. They have the whole enchilada in terms of infrastructure and the security story is a big hole for them.

McAfee on the other hand, also has real reason to try and make this work. The HP ProCurve story is shot. Tipping Point being the “in house” brand there puts a huge damper on that. Extreme Networks is frankly something of a shambles. Their CEO just left, the numbers are down and they probably need to find a buyer. In the meantime Cisco, Juniper and IBM are breathing down their neck in network security. AV may still be a cash cow, but the days of charging for that are drawing to a close. It is not just Symantec that they have to worry about anymore. They need a big brother to give them the muscle in the datacenter and the entire campus LAN/WAN.

So it is for these reasons that I think McAfee/Brocade may just have to make this work or else. In fact, I think this could be “the start of a beautiful friendship”. It may even be that Dave DeWalt has found his buyer for McAfee. Brocade will be ready to do battle with Cisco, Juniper, HP and the rest having a major security player as their in house brand.

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