Networking giant Cisco is to offer Microsoft's Windows Server 2008 on some of its branch-office appliances.
In an announcement on Tuesday, the networking specialist said this is the first time Windows services have become a feature of a Cisco appliance.
Windows Server 2008 will be embedded in Cisco's WAAS (wide area application services) portfolio, a family of branch-office appliances that accelerate the delivery of applications across the wide area network (WAN).
The result of the partnership between Microsoft and Cisco is that IT managers will be able to use a relatively simple infrastructure to deploy Windows Server 2008 in branch offices, while hosting their other applications in a data centre.
The embedding of Windows Server 2008 in the appliances has been made possible by a new installation option in the Microsoft product. The Server Core option allows for only select components and subsystems to be installed with a command line interface. In the case of the WAAS appliances, this will include DNS, DHCP, Active Directory and print services.
"There are two common approaches to branch-office IT," said Mark Weiner, director of marketing for data-centre solutions at Cisco. "You can continue to add [equipment] and keep it local, or you can centralise as much IT resources as possible and keep some local."
Weiner suggested that Windows Server services could be a sensible candidate for retention in the branch office. "This is a very innovative architecture [which] allows Microsoft services to sit natively on the network," he added.
According to Microsoft's figures, one-fifth of Windows Server deployments are in branch or remote offices, so the addressable market for the partnership is huge.
Weiner said businesses might consider deploying WAAS appliances with Windows Server 2008 when they next carried out a server refresh.
The first WAAS appliances to come with the option of Windows Server 2008 are expected to become available in the second half of this year, when Cisco releases its virtualised WAAS appliances.
WAAS appliances are currently priced from $5,000 (£2,500), but the pricing for the Windows Server 2008 option is yet to be revealed.
Microsoft and Cisco are increasingly operating as both partners and rivals. The companies hosted a joint event in August to explain how they would work together on a range of products. The embedding of Windows Server 2008 into the WAAS appliances is one of those efforts.
But the two companies are also committed to delivering unified communications — the next stage of voice/data convergence — and they differ in their approach. Microsoft sees the desktop as the starting point for the deployment of unified communications, while Cisco believes the intelligence should be in the network.