The Compute Stars Align

IBM's recent acquisition of Blade Networks is an endorsement of what Cisco has been claiming as it pushes its Unified Computing System: that integrating switching changes the blade server/cloud game.

IBM's recent acquisition of Blade Networks is an endorsement of what Cisco has been claiming as it pushes its Unified Computing System: that integrating switching changes the blade server/cloud game.

With the acquisition IBM reenters the network market it exited in 1999 with the $2 billion sale of its network business (chips and switches) to Cisco. Blade Networks was created in 2006 when private equity firm Garnett & Helfrich Capital bought Nortel's Blade Server Switch Business Unit. Around we spin.

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There's more. Major investors in Blade include Juniper Networks (which private labels some Blade top-of-rack switch products), NEC and, rumor has it, IBM (as a silent partner). Besides IBM and NEC, Blade also OEMs product to HP, but IBM is said to account for about half of Blades' revenue.

IBM all but anointed Cisco's UCS vision with this statement about the acquisition: "Blade will help IBM better integrate networks with its systems, optimizing them for workloads that require high-speed and low-latency performance such as cloud computing and business analytics," says Brian Truskowski, general manager, IBM System Storage and Networking.

One has to presume some of the same thinking drove HP's acquisition of 3Com last year. All the big guns are aligning around the idea that the future is about integrated compute/storage/network stacks.

Cisco customers seem to be buying it. In its Q4 earnings call Cisco said it already has 1,700 UCS customers, and that for a product that has only been shipping for a year.

And the company is putting its money where its mouth is. According to John Manville, vice president of IT, Cisco has already deployed about 2,500 UCS blades internally and within 12 to 18 months the $40B company expects to have more than 90% of its total workload serviced by UCS, displacing HP infrastructure. (Tit for tat, HP just announced it has completed the eradication of Cisco WAN routers and switches in its six core data centers.)

Where does Dell stand in all of this industry shuffling? As a start, it just hired former Cisco exec Dario Zamarian as vice president and general manager to head its net division, saying, "Dell is focused on solutions for the 'Virtual Era,' and networking is a key component of Dell's initiative to enable virtualized datacenters." Dell sells its own PowerConnect LAN gear, but otherwise resells equipment from Juniper, Brocade and Aruba. Maybe this is a sign of bigger things to come.

The real question here is, who will be able to integrate it all to best advantage? That's where the big guns will need to prove their differentiation (hint: it won't hinge on processor architecture).

Read more about lan and wan in Network World's LAN & WAN section.

This story, "The Compute Stars Align" was originally published by NetworkWorld .

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