Brocade is up for sale and has hired Qatalyst Group to find a buyer, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal.
If the reports are correct the move could be the start of a wave of consolidation within the datacentre infrastructure providers.
HP and Oracle - who would both be expected to be keenly interested in capturing the company - and Brocade itself all declined comment for the WSJ story.
HP would be interested in Brocade to fill out its datacentre switching and SAN portfolio as it battles former ally Cisco for next-generation datacentre buildouts. HP resold Cisco routers and switches for years before ramping R&D in its own ProCurve line.
Cisco countered by developing a data center blade server system to compete with HP's and IBM's offerings. IBM is also a reseller of Cisco switches and routers but has also agreed to OEM Brocade's equipment, which it obtained from its acquisition of Cisco rival Foundry Networks.
HP resells Brocade FibreChannel and FibreChannel-over-Ethernet (FCoE) SAN switches under an OEM arrangement but is challenged in offering a complete datacentre switching line via its internally developed ProCurve brand. Acquiring Brocade would fill out both its LAN and SAN switching portfolios for the datacentre, observers note.
Similarly, software giant Oracle would become a more complete player in the datacentre with a Brocade acquisition. Oracle is in the process of acquiring Sun for more than $7 billion, which gives it server hardware and software; Brocade would give Oracle LAN and SAN switching hardware and make the company a powerful provider of hardware as well as software.
But some analysts say Brocade would be a stretch for Oracle, and perhaps too disruptive near term for HP.
"Much has to do with Oracle's long-term growth plans," according to Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Ittai Kidron. "If the company truly plans to become a systems company (one-stop shop software/hardware), then Brocade would be a nice fit, especially including Sun Microsystems with no overlap. We're a bit in the dark on strategy here.
On HP, Kidron writes: "Brocade would add the missing datacentre switch architecture as well as a strong presence in the SAN switch market. That said, there would be massive overlap with HP's ProCurve networking unit, which we believe would be disruptive. Also, IBM and EMC are 10 percent customers for Brocade and could be lost as customers (along with HP's 10 percent business of Brocade)."
If HP acquired Brocade, business from IBM and others could swing back to Cisco, according to UBS analysts Nikos Theodosopoulos.
A dark horse in the Brocade stakes would be Juniper, according to investment firm UBS. Juniper and IBM are tightly aligned in datacentre and cloud computing, and a Brocade acquisition would flesh out much of what's missing in the IBM/Juniper datacentre arsenal - specifically, an FCoE line of switches.
"We believe Juniper may be another potential buyer of Brocade, although recent commentary from Juniper suggests it is not looking at large deals now," UBS analyst Theodosopoulos said. "An acquisition of Brocade would make sense for Juniper, in our view, because it is the only other clear networking partner for IBM, while IBM is currently supporting Juniper's development of an FCoE switch, alleviating some of the R&D budgetary constraints on Juniper as it pursues both LTE & FCoE technologies."
Juniper has a major announcement planned for 28 October with observers predicting it will flesh out its Project Stratus cloud computing strategy and/or announce a significant alliance or acquisition with a major IT player.
IBM may also be interested in Brocade but that would dash its Juniper partnership, kill HP and EMC as 10 percent revenue customers, and get IBM back in the network and SAN hardware business which may not appeal to the company, Kidron notes.
Another wild card is Dell. Acquiring Brocade would give Dell, a maker of servers for the datacentre, more credibility in that market with minimal overlap, according to Kidron. But Dell just acquired Perot Systems last month for $4 billion so the prospects of making another major acquisition so soon after is remote, Kidron states.
That doesn't necessarily rule them out though.
"I think Dell could potentially make a play for them; I've heard through some of their channel that there is a big push for capturing some [datacentre] share," says Frost & Sullivan analyst Vanessa Alvarez.
No deal is imminent for Brocade and the company could still dash a potential deal, the WSJ reports. But proactively seeking out possible acquirers may give the company more control over the process and over its destiny, observers note.