Monday, December 7, 2015

A Network Engineer's Story: Why I Prefer Brocade Switches Over Cisco

This post in something I have wanted to do for some time.  I have people who ask me my thoughts between two vendors quite often.  Usually, the comparison is Brocade vs Cisco.  I also get asked a lot why I like Brocade so much.  The story I'm about to tell you is "my" story of how I came to some professional and personal vendor conclusions. This road was not easy for me, because being a Cisco guy was important to me in my career growth. In fact, I got to where I am now because of my pursuit of Cisco.  I would not have changed that if I'm being truthful.  But, as I have grown a little older and a little more open minded to technologies, there are some realities that I have just had to face.  So bear with me while I tell you my story of how my head got turned around when looking at network gear for my customers.

One day as I came into my office, one of the owners came up to me and told me that he would like for me to meet with a vendor that was coming in.  That wasn't unusual, even if we were interested or not.  It was part of my job to evaluate technologies, and this guy wanted me to take a listen to this company.  The next day, in walked the sales guy from this vendor to have this meeting.  He was from Brocade.  Honestly, I did not want to be introduced to them, nor have anything to do with them.  I was very happy as a Cisco engineer at the consulting firm I work at and life was good.  And after all, I had started this networking career pursuing Cisco fifteen years earlier (at that time).  That was what I wanted to do early on, and that is what I "grew up" on in this IT career of mine.  At the time of this writing, that guy walked into our office about five years ago.

As I sat down, I can tell you I was already closed off to what this guy had to say.  Why would I be interested in Brocade?  I'm a Cisco guy, and everyone knows that Cisco is the way to go, right?  I let this guy talk for an hour or so, and I can tell you that I just was not into this conversation.  As far as I was concerned, this guy just wasted a hour of my time. So I let that owner know I wasn't interested, among other things about this meeting, and went on my way to support my customers.

About a week later, that same owner came back to me and asked me to look at Brocade again.  I can still hear his exact words: "I really need you to look at this."  To me, this meant that he was wanting to start some kind of relationship with Brocade.  I couldn't figure out why he wanted this, but I did meet with them again and gave them a chance to discuss their switching products.  I did listen a little more openly this time.   And hey, to me, this was just another meeting.  At that time, it didn't mean anything to me.  Again, this was about five years ago or so from the time of this writing.

Time went on and I had discussions, etc with several people from Brocade.  Still, nothing standing out at that point.  I do remember one thing in particular the owner had said to me that was interesting.  He said that a Cisco IP phone would boot up faster on a Brocade switch than it would on a Cisco switch.  I immediately didn't believe that.  After all, that just didn't seem logical to me.  I asked him if he had seen that, and he said he had not.  But that was something that he was told.  By who, I still don't know.

So the time finally came where one of my sales guys actually sold 118 Brocade switches to one of the school systems in the state I'm from. This was a network refresh project, and we were replacing all Cisco switches to Brocade gear.  I guess I had to get my feet wet a little in Brocade land, and I was the engineer on this particular project.  So I traveled up to this customer and started working on this with one of the Brocade engineers that wanted to go onsite with me.  I wont bore you with the details of the project, but there was one thing that caught my attention in this network refresh.  This customer has a Cisco phone system.  And one thing I noticed when we were replacing the network gear was that the IP phones actually DID boot up faster on the Brocade switches than on the Cisco switches.  That, to me, was a turning point that I was not expecting.  A point in which I told myself that I had to look at this honestly.  After all, I always made good decisions about technology.  I just didn't always make honest decisions about technology.

Now, let me explain the last two sentences that I just said, where I said that I made good decisions, but not always honest decisions.  What I mean is that I pride myself in doing the very best for my customers.  I take pride in knowing I do the right things for them when it comes to design and equipment.  I consider it my responsibility to tell my customers, as a trusted network adviser, what needs to be done in their networks and with what technologies.  And Cisco was, and is, a good vendor to put in as my customer infrastructure.  To me, that is a good decision, although, it was not honest when I consider the three things that are important to me now.  You see, honestly, Cisco was a good technology to put in for routing and switching.  But, was it the best product to put in for my customer?  When I told my customers that "Cisco is the best gear you can get", was I being honest with them?  As far as I knew at that time, the answer was always yes.  But in reality, my lack of switch comparisons during that time would say that no is probably the real answer.  I mean, I knew Cisco well technically, and Cisco certainly has a good reputation.  What else did I need?

So, what is important to me now, that I would evaluate in gear for the network infrastructure?  If you read my blog, you know there are three main things I talk about to my customers:
1.  Price
2.  Performance
3.  Features

Now, back to five years ago when I saw that Cisco IP phone boot up faster on a Brocade switch over a Cisco switch.  When I saw that, I knew I had to really look into this.  When I started "honestly" looking at the comparisons between Cisco and Brocade, I could not believe what I was seeing on paper.  I took the time to do the real "apples to apples" comparisons between what a Cisco switch performed at, and what a Brocade switch performed at.  After all, I do that when I buy a new car.  Why wouldn't I do that with network gear?  And, I worked with both Cisco and Brocade gear in testing as much as I could.  Not only that, I did the performance comparisons between the two vendors, along with feature set and pricing (through my sales guys) comparisons.  I even put everything in a spreadsheet to compare the two vendors as far as performance and features goes that were important to me, so that I could see them side by side.  I have to tell you, when I did this, this was the point when I realized that I had to change my "product view", as a network guy.  I could no longer say the things I used to say, if I were going to be honest.

So, now lets fast forward five years to the now (at the time of this writing).  I have around 20 years of Cisco experience and 5 years experience with Brocade.  These are the conclusions that I have personally found in the three things I mentioned above that are important to me:
1.  Price --> Brocade has always beat Cisco, when comparing "apples to apples".  In fact, at the time of this writing, I just had my sales guy do a quote for an "apples to apples" comparisons of three Cisco switches and three Brocade switches.  Brocade was literally half the price of the Cisco quote.
2.  Performance -->  In doing the honest comparisons, again "apples to apples", I can tell you that from what I see, Brocade always beats Cisco in performance specs.  Its not my fault, I don't make the gear.  But I do evaluate it.
3.  Features -->  Cisco always wins when it comes to feature set.  Honestly, its just what I have found.  However, 99% of my customers don't need that extra feature set that only Cisco offers.  With only one exception that I recall (object tracking), Brocade has always had what my customers needed then and for their next five year plan.  (Keep in mind, I do a lot of advanced configurations)

So what do I do with this information now?  Its important to me to do my customers right.  Its important to me to be a "trusted network adviser" to them.  It is up to me to make sure I always present the right solutions for them, based on the three things that I feel are important for their company.  I get paid by them to make the best decisions I can make for them. And if they choose to go with my advice or not, that is up to them.  I have compared many vendors specs against each other.  In fact, it is my responsibility to make sure I'm presenting the best of #1 and #2 to my customers, and #3 when they need it. I have spent countless hours on comparisons, and will continue to do so as long as I'm in the IT services business. It's my responsibility as a technical engineer to my customers.

Now, all that said, let me give you one more reason to consider with the above in why I believe in the Brocade product.  First, I have had very few problems with Brocade.  Cisco is a solid product, but my experience in the last five years says that Brocade is equally a solid product as well in operation in the network.  Sure, electronics is electronics with any vendor.  I have seen Cisco fail and I have seen Brocade fail electronically, although very few on both.  But, in my own experience, I have seen just as solid of manufacturing in Brocade as I have in Cisco.

I have met a lot of engineers and IT managers in my career. I have come to find a couple of things:
1:  I have found that when you come across engineers that are very good with a particular brand, they typically want to stay with that product in their company environment. And I think the reason is that it's because that is what they know how to work on. They are comfortable with that and don't want to change because of that. But is that putting your company needs first?  There was a time when I myself had this mindset in my career.
2:  I have found that when technical people, especially IT managers, make decisions on equipment, they base it on price, without consideration to performance or features.  It's new to them and they think things like "Its got a gig interface" or " The sales guy said this...".  Money is really they overriding factor.
3:  I've seen managers, not so much technical engineers, just trust the sales guy or engineer they like. And that is dangerous, because the selling engineer may only know about a certain brand of switch, which is what he is going to try to sell. And that may not be good for YOUR company.

 For me right now, its Brocade as my choice switching gear.  To me, they are the top performers when I honestly look at the switching gear.  They are the ones putting in more bang for the buck, from what I see.  Do the research yourself, and see what you come up with.
-- Shane


  1. Thanks for sharing the story of your career growth - becoming more open minded and customer focused. Curious about your thoughts on Juniper vs Brocade. We've seen less demand for Brocade gear over the past year or so, and much more for Juniper.

    1. Hey Joe. I think juniper probably is the closest to brocade in performance. However, brocade still leads when it comes to honest specs. I'm not sure about price.

  2. Thanks a lot! I feel exactly the same, although my experience with Brocade gear is ~1 year vs 8 years with Cisco.

    I understand Brocade is very aggressive (price wise) while entering Ethernet market, but it's insane that you can get better performance switches for literally twice(!) the price of the Cisco. As you said, Cisco is definitely a solid brand, no doubts, but could it be *that* overpriced?

    No issues with ICX6610 stacks so far (1y uptime) *touch the wood*. We have had a weird problem with one of the 6450s in the stack, but the RMA was quick so nothing to complain about.

    What bothers me a bit with Brocade is their firmware versioning policy -- sometimes it doesn't make sense at all. The recommended firmware version matrix published on the website is pretty outdated and different support engineers recommend different versions (one said we should stick with 8020 and another one with the latest 8030). It would have been much simpler (IMHO) if they could have introduced some sort of trunks like 8030-stable or 8020-dev, otherwise it's confusing.

    Also, their recent redesign of the public website (to so popular nowadays "scroll down" layout), made things much difficult to find. One could spend 10-15 minutes to find a PDF with technical specs, but hey, may be I'm just old school. :)

    1. Good comments. And I agree for sure on the website.


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