The rumors about Cisco offering a blade server abound now. If true, it would seem that Cisco wants to move up the stack from providing networking and network virtualization technology to providing a more complete computing environment. This would place them in direct competition with Dell, HP and IBM. The key question that should be in potential customer's minds is "are they ready?" Here are some of the issues remaining to be resolved:
- Platform expertise — Dell, HP and IBM each have a track record supporting customers increasingly complex environments. This means having relationships with all of the suppliers of operating systems, application frameworks, applications, security software, management tools and virtualization technology. At this point, Cisco does not have a portfolio of products, services, partnerships and alliances that comes close to those fielded by HP or IBM. Although not in the same position as these competitors, Dell has been working on develping an equivalent portfolio for quite some time. Cisco is unlikely to be able to match the competitors in this area for quite some time.
- Virtualization expertise —as I've often mentioned here, a complete virtualization strategy is far more than merely fielding virtual machine software. Dell, HP and IBM have spent years developing techology or developing relationships with suppliers of technology allowing them to address customers' needs in virtualization technology for access, applications, processing, network, storage, security and managing virtualized environments. Cisco has largely focused on network virtualization.
- Networking expertise —HP and IBM have been involved in a networked world far longer than either Dell or Cisco. Cisco has developed a strong position in network infrastructure hardware and software. At this point, Dell, HP and IBM have not seriously challenged Cisco. If Cisco goes after the other suppliers' main hardware business, I would expect them to reply by beefing up their competitive offerings in Cisco's home turf.
Although this isn't a complete analysis, it quickly becomes clear that the market is going to be much more interesting and competitive if/when Cisco launches its blade server offerings. If I consider the competitive environment, Dell is in the weakest position today to address Cisco's move so I'll focus on them for a bit.
Here are some unasked for recommendations for Dell:
- Dell, you need to move beyond focusing only high volume products to embrace some strategic lower volume areas. I could imagine Dell creating relationships with smaller Linux distributions that have a strong following in specific regions, open source collaborative environments and even open source applications.
- HP and IBM have strong management environments for both physical and virtual infrastructure. Dell, your relationships with suppliers such as Egenera are a good place to start. Working more closely with them could certainly help position Dell as stronger enterprise-level supplier.
- Dell, your systems could be positioned as direct competitors with Cisco's primary product area with the addition of the right software. Have you considered working with a suppler such as Vyatta to offer products that compete more directly with Cisco? (HP and IBM you might like to work with Vyatta as well)
If you were sitting with Dell's executives, what would you suggest?