Storage vendor McData was formed on St Patrick's Day 21 years ago in the home of Jack McDonald, the 'Mac' in McData.
It flourished as a private company, concentrating on switch infrastructure for the enterprise, and was snapped up by storage giant EMC in 1995.
It then had an initial public offering in August 2000 and became independent from EMC in February 2001.
Today, the firm is looking to extend its presence, not only in the high-end sector, but in the value added reseller-friendly SME sector, where it has introduced some compelling technology.
At the same time the firm is rolling out its flavour of storage virtualisation and is looking to create what many consider the 'Holy Grail' of storage: a combined, centralised services and management platform for storage area networks (Sans).
With encouraging revenues and profitability, McData, which touches two-thirds of the data in storage networks and 10 per cent of all business data, according to analysis from Tallman Insights, is also looking for possible acquisitions to help it reach its goals more quickly.
For its first quarter of 2003, ended 30 April, it posted profit of $5.3m on turnover of $103.2m.
Despite its recent success, it still has work to do, especially in Europe, where it has been criticised for being under-resourced. The firm's marketing strategy has also come under fire for not being sufficiently aggressive.
But now McData executives say that 'the gloves are off', and the real heavyweight title bout has almost begun. To this end, the firm is looking to strengthen its presence in Europe and has vowed to shout louder about its offerings.
"We started in Fibre Channel in 1995, and the vision of the future we had then, we pretty much have today," said McDonald.
"What's different is that the market has evolved; customers have come to understand the technology and how to take advantage of it and derive real business value. That's what it is all about.
"When we started out we looked at Fibre Channel. We saw it first as an enabling technology: a technology that would allow customers to treat all of the data within their organisation equally, eventually.
"But first we had to establish a foundation to prove to customers that the technology had the platform to build on for the future."
But McDonald explained that it has taken several years for customers to gain acceptance of the technology, a view echoed by Paul Talbut, managing director of one of McData's UK elite VAR partners, HPS.
"[It is key to] educate customers about the value of storage networking," he said.
McDonald and Talbut agreed that the plummeting price of storage is making the barrier to entry smaller and more attractive to SMEs. But price alone will not drive the adoption of Sans in the SME space, according to Talbut.
"Pricing has to be right, but the solution has to be flexible too. Budgets are being squeezed and customers do not want to be locked in," he stated.
Paul Trowbridge, regional marketing manager at McData rival Brocade, which has been supplying the SME sector for some time, said: "The battleground is where iSCSI competes with Fibre Channel."
But Talbut believes that these boundaries between iSCSI and Fibre Channel are becoming more blurred. With falling costs, customers now have a greater choice, he argued.
The next phase for McData is to add intelligence and distance into the fabric, according to McDonald.
"With Sans, we have the unique ability to touch the customer's information directly, and we can therefore add value locally instead of just traditional networking," he explained.
To this end, McData is introducing a series of intelligent switches and blades for its products.
Jean Brecker, senior vice president of engineering at McData, said: "On the switch side we are going to build more stand-alone switches that will have additional functionality. For example, an IP switch or a virtualisation switch."
Although it won't be commercially available until the second half of next year, McData has also previewed its virtualisation platform.
It will combine intelligent programmable switches with a separate control engine, cutting out the need for additional servers because data flows through the switch via a ramped-up processor.
Virtualisation will be integrated within its Sphereon 4500 switch, but its high-end Director products will be blade-upgradeable because of their different architecture.
"Storage virtualisation is something we have been talking about with partners, customers and potential suppliers for the past two years," said McDonald.
"But it has been difficult to find a comprehensive definition of storage virtualisation that our customers could really utilise.
"We have decided to go forward and deliver demonstration models of virtualisation so that our customers can actually experiment with it and then roll it out to the market."
McData will also be rolling out its combined services and management platform for Sans. Slated for delivery in Q4 this year, the platform is something McData's distribution partners are looking forward to.
Fergus Campbell, San product development manager at distributor Ideal Enterprise Solutions, said: "It's the 'Holy Grail' if you can integrate [a platform such as HP's] OpenView with SANavigator [McData San management software] to manage the local area network with the San," he said.
In the future, McDonald believes that customers will have large networks that are managed centrally, while companies such as McData will be "doing functionality" at the edges to automatically translate from physical to virtual storage.
"The issue has gone from the cost of storing data to the cost of managing the storage. So adding intelligence and automated tools is key for the future," he explained.
"We can only deliver it at the rate the market can accept change. So we are trying to stay ahead and prove to the market that this is the technology that is important and these are the services that enable it, so customers can take the next step."
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