'Godfather' McHugh: Brocade Visibility At Tip Of The Iceberg


To John McHugh, Brocade is a lot more than meets the eye. He likens the company's visibility to the tip of an iceberg, just starting to breach the surface.

"We're not happy that we haven't gotten more of the iceberg above the water yet," said McHugh, who on March 1 was officially named Brocade's chief marketing officer. "That's changing. Very rapidly."

McHugh has won the trust of the channel, mindful of his 28 years of experience in IT, and more specifically, in networking.

He spent 26 of those years at Hewlett Packard, eventually becoming "the godfather" of ProCurve, the now-thriving, but once-fledgling networking unit of HP, which during McHugh's tenure as vice president and worldwide manager grew from a somewhat ignored start-up into a $1 billion business.

McHugh left HP in June 2009, and for much of last year served as vice president and general manager of Nortel's Enterprise Network Solutions business. That business, which included the former Bay Networks business that Nortel acquired in 1998, went to Avaya in a $915 million acquisition in December, and McHugh parted ways with the company in February.

Now comes another chapter. McHugh is joining Brocade at a critical time in its history, as it's been a year and a half since its acquisition of Foundry Networks -- a move that meant the merging of storage networking business and an IP-centric networking business, a blending of channels, and the emergence of Brocade as a legitimate competitor to Cisco and other networking titans.

In a chat with Channelweb.com last month, McHugh said his job is to inspire confidence in channel partners in a vendor whose strategy is evolving, as well as make sure Brocade is understood as an end-to-end networking provider. Channelweb.com Assistant Managing Editor Chad Berndtson caught up with McHugh this week to get a sense of his 90-day agenda.

I wanted to get into this idea of Brocade as a true end-to-end competitor, but before that, your personal reasons for going there. Why is this role at Brocade the right fit for you?

The simple answer to that is that I've been in this industry for 28 years, and I think I've gotten older and a little bit wiser. About a year and a half ago, I approached Brocade, after they announced the Foundry acquisition. I saw the genius of that move. The biggest issue in our industry right now is what people are referring to as convergence, and I think a lot of this is a reincarnation of the move toward convergence that happened in the early 2000s. Think of convergence as what needs to happen for a customer to deal with the challenges of an architecture, and what technologies need to converge to make it all work. The best way to understand how to be a leader in that is to literally converge those technologies and those business models within our company.

I saw Brocade do that, and this industry has a lot of haughtiness -- there was a lot of haughtiness from competitors toward Brocade, about how they didn't get it and how there's no reason for them to play this way at all. For me, though, it was the best available asset to buy: the Foundry technology, the performance, the architecture they were operating off of, it was clearly a diamond in the rough. To see Brocade, one of the clear data center experts, recognize how important that was was exciting and compelling. It took me a year to be able to land a job here.

So this has been in the works for a year?

We had some initial discussions back then about the opportunity. We couldn't quite connect the dots back then.

So it was never your intent to stay with Nortel for long?

I spent the better part of my career running a networking company inside a corporate structure where they really didn't want to be in the business because they didn't think it had any strategic benefit. I was growing an asset and growing a business model, if you will, outside the bounds of strategic direction and intent. Having watched the company that was Bay Networks being slowly but surely destroyed by a UC company was heartrending, and also seemed to me a great opportunity. Nortel reached out to me about a year ago and wanted help understanding how to carve that business out and set it up in a position where it could renew some of its former self. Unfortunately, during the ultimate outcome, it went from one UC company to another. The mission, however, was what I was comfortable with.
We've talked a little about Brocade's image in the channel, and I'm curious as to how you feel Brocade is perceived. What does it need to do to burnish that image? Is there a perception that needs to be changed?

Let me say right off that there is no ambiguity in this company about where we're headed and how critical the channel is to that success. The one thing that has absolutely impressed me is the unilateral agreement around a critical set of objectives. I think the challenge that we've faced is to more clearly message that, if you will, and as you said, burnish the image. The fact is we've got to be more aggressive about developing the expertise base that understands what steps to take and in what order.

I think the fact that I'm sitting here and we're doing a lot of hiring throughout our channel organization right now means we're acquiring people who don't have to guess or argue about what are the right steps to build it, but people who have been through it and its part of their basic genetics. Literally on a monthly basis, we're bringing on people that are long-term, who have had decades of experience at working at channel-driven sales motions. The critical mass we have in place now is very impressive. I don't feel like I'm pushing a rope, I feel like a whole bunch of people have welcomed me with open arms. I think you'll see the vector moving in the right direction based on the investments we've made.

Can you expound a bit on those internal changes? Are you hiring new channel sales managers? Re-allocating resources?

There are some things on my 90-day agenda around that: executing some good organizational design practices. To this point, there is a little bit of looking at the house and putting some additions on it, but we want to get the architecture cleaned up from the ground up. Mainly, it's about efficiency and making sure we're not spending more time on internal processes than we are external delivery. We're also building talent: the company has added strategic leadership in the channel program, we're bringing in leadership in all regions, and we've been investing very heavily in the channel ecosystem, designing our whole online presence from traditional web tools to social media.

What specific channel program changes are we seeing?

There are a couple of things I would highlight, but right now, we've had a lead generation program that's been in prototype phase and we've been getting the kinks out of the process for the last couple of months. We're right now kicking off several activities to act as feeders, and we'll now have a full life cycle to lead qualification process. We are turning on inside sales and inside marketing activities, too. We're at the point where the capabilities and the nascent partnering processes are very visible.

In recent conversations with Barbara [Spicek, vice president of worldwide channels], we've talked a lot about this idea of the true convergence solution provider, whose practice encompasses data center, storage, networking and the services involved in each. What percentage of Brocade's existing channel might be described as that, you think?

I would suspect, although I don't know, to be honest, that the Brocade family of partners is ahead of the curve in terms of having a realistic view of what the implications of these various trends are for customers, and on their own business models. As experts in data center architecture and data center migration, Brocade uniquely sees a lot of this opportunity, and we're trying to be much better at communicating the expectations we have around where the market's going. Most of the vision out there is incredibly vendor-driven and incredibly transparent in the obvious intent by those vendors. You've got vendors doing land grabs, and to some extent their push for cloud is a reason for turning the clocks back: they want this whole idea of monolithic, proprietary data centers to return. I'm pretty sure that idea started to disappear sometime back in the late 80s.

There are the big three, two of whom have not really participated in network architecture in any meaningful way in the last decade, and one of whom is crafty about creating trends and architectures that are in its best interest. As a person who's been very deep and entrenched in network architecture, the concept of virtualizing all the hardware isn't new, but back then it was customer-driven, not vendor-driven. What's happening now is an exploding of the conceptual model for data center to where it's moving [parts] around a unified fabric and moving control of it up to a complete software level.

This is a model that clearly should evolve, and shouldn't involve forklifts. Customers have storage architecture that does everything, and more than anything, it's a key part of their ecosystem for information integrity. One of the things I'm really pushing partners on is around reducing complexity and protecting existing access. Yes, enabling new applications, enabling cloud, enabling virtual mobility -- which customers can absolutely need and benefit from -- but not with a forklift.

This has to be something that migrates these environments and does so with cost effectiveness and respect for existing infrastructure. We want partners to look at it is, my competitor says everything's gotta go, but I say to customers, don't panic, let's talk about what makes sense from incremental steps.
If Brocade is poised to grow, from whom will you take market share?

I try not to throw rocks at competitors and I don't believe I've ever encountered a successful business model that targeted a specific competitor. As a rule and philosophy, I always target customer values. If you deliver that better than your competitor, you win. If you don't, you lose. But if you want to understand who is going to lose, it's the suppliers that are not focused on the key objectives customers care about, which is simplifying their environment and reducing cost.

We've seen a number of strategic partnerships for Brocade lately. How do these vendor partners fit into the strategy and how do you want channel partners to view them?

What Brocade is going through right now is Convergence 101. Everyone is benefited in a world where, if you look at the major players, be they the EMCs or IBMs, or the Dells or the HPs on the systems side, everyone is working together. This is the world of info management today. I understand the perspective of the partners and how they look at some of these folks as being incredibly threatening, but I gotta tell you, if the last two decades are any indication -- and to me, they are -- the most relevant impact on the evolution of small enterprise customer environments has been the channel.

The channel is where the rubber -- and the reality -- meets the road. That's where the millions of deployments have occurred. At the end of the day, it's about the channel and the channel being the one that holds the customers' hands and pragmatically takes them through the steps of embracing new business models. I've been in this industry long enough to hear many times how the channel's going to be wiped out by this model, or this integrator, or this supplier, and lo and behold, the channel has always had the speed, the ability and the intelligence, which has what's made them most efficient.

How do you want the Brocade channel to understand cloud? With all the hype around delivery models, is there one concept you want to make sure they get, about Brocade's cloud strategy or the cloud in general?

I will take the opportunity to at least be able to name a couple of things. First, this is about evolution, not revolution. If it's something that's better, simpler and more cost effective for the customer, it's going to be clearly better, simpler and more cost effective for the customer. There's no magic here.

The second point I would highlight is there's absolutely an evolution happening, and you can't go into denial and sit back and see yourself only for the products you've been selling. The people who fail are those who will identify with specific products and specific solutions, rather than understand what their value and partnership to customers is really about.

That said, if I can step away from it a little bit, there are things that are incredibly popular and are being adopted like mad, but the whole concept of being able to virtualize applications, and run virtual instances and be able to scale on generic processors, that's the real deal. Customers see a fundamental shift in the way they deploy applications in their data centers, and the thinking is almost 100 percent moving to that domain versus the historic domain of large applications running on large machines. That can't be underestimated.

So the summary message to channel partners is this: it's an evolution. Recognize that what you knew yesterday was not wrong, it's evolving. You can't stand on those laurels, but the color of the sky yesterday is still the color of the sky today. Challenge yourself on how to understand how to move your customer forward, and judiciously embrace next-generation architectures.