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Cisco pushes into servers; storage’s role undefined

Cisco execs led by CEO John Chambers spent 90 minutes today on a webcast telling groups spread around the world what most of the IT world already knew – it is getting into the server business. But to Cisco’s way of spinning it, it is going beyond servers to a new data center architecture that will include networking, virtualization, a unified fabric, the cloud, and storage.

Nobody spent much time talking about individual products during the webcast, which included partners from EMC, VMware, Intel, Microsoft, BMC Software, and Accenture. Cisco has a diagram of the main pieces of its Unified Computing System on its web site, although details such as general availability and pricing are still to come.

We still don’t know the role storage will play in Cisco’s new world either, although EMC CEO Joe Tucci appeared on the webcast to give his blessing and EMC blogger Chuck Hollis today applauded Cisco’s bravery. Cisco also listed NetApp, Emulex, and QLogic among its partners. Considering those vendors along with EMC are also Cisco’s core Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) allies, it seems as if FCoE is as far as Cisco’s storage plans go for now.

Chambers and other Cisco execs said today’s session was mainly about describing an architecture and partner ecosystem with more product details to follow. And Tucci hinted that EMC will work more closely with Cisco’s unified computing products than it does with Cisco’s MDS Fibre Channel switches. “We will make sure our storage systems are not only qualified with, but really tuned to bring value to this Unified Computing System,” he said.

It’s also important to consider those missing from Cisco’s ecosystem – server vendors Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Dell and Sun, and storage/networking connectivity rival Brocade. For Cisco to succeed with its new unified architecture, it must successfully compete with those vendors who also partner with most of Cisco’s unified computing allies. And in the case of the server vendors, Cisco is going head-to-head with its own Ethernet partners.

So Cisco’s unified computing may play a divisive role with other key technology players. While Cisco customers may be eager to sign on, how will those who prefer open interfaces and standards react?

“Cisco has to get an entire ecosystem participating for its technology to really go into next phase,” StorageIO Group analyst Greg Schulz says. “To go into that market full tilt, they have to step all over IBM, Sun, HP, and potentially Intel white box customers. Are they really serious about wanting to take market share from their key partners? And how will the others respond?”

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