Cisco and the art of data center co-opetition

Cisco builds out its storage lineup as the company creates a complete data center arsenal that's integrated and a potential threat to partners.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Cisco rolled out a series of storage area networking systems that highlights how the company is increasingly starting to play in the total data center stack and bumping into partners.


On Thursday, Cisco rolled out the MDS 9148S Multilayer Fabric Switch, MDS 9706 Director, and the MDS 9700 FCoE. The systems will compete with Brocade and will integrate with Cisco's servers and networking gear. Cisco has been either building or acquiring building blocks to merge networking, storage and compute into one system.

Let's do a quick recap:

  • Cisco's storage area networking switches are aimed at Brocade, but give the company more to sell for converged data centers. Cisco is likely to use its SAN systems to also sell its own storage as an option along with EMC and NetApp gear.
  • Last year, Cisco acquired Whiptail, a solid-state storage player. With that move, Cisco will bump into EMC more. EMC and Cisco are the two primary players in the VCE joint venture that includes Intel and VMware.
  • Cisco has already become the No. 4 server provider in terms of revenue, according to IDC. Cisco, which used to be just a networking player, has managed to compete with server vendors who used to be partners.
  • Microsoft and Cisco have formed a three-year partnership to integrate platforms including Windows Server and Azure into the networking giant's Unified Computing System data center stack. "We suspect the agreement between Cisco and Microsoft was motivated by and is a direct response to the threat posed by VMware to each of Cisco and Microsoft," said Cowen analyst Paul Silverstein. VMware is a virtualization and data center management threat to Microsoft.

The game for Cisco is one of pure co-opetition. Cisco will partner with rivals and compete with partners if it boosts its standing as a networking and cloud infrastructure provider.

Silverstein noted:

The agreement marks the latest move in what has become and continues to become an increasingly, complex chessboard among the large-cap, "old-guard" technology companies as each of them position to capture an increasing share of IT wallet. Given the ongoing trend of focusing IT spend in the data center/cloud, this game of thrones competition has naturally been focused in the data center/cloud arena.

Bottom line: Cisco isn't the only one playing the game. Look for more partnerships---including a few head scratchers from the likes of Microsoft, EMC, VMware, Oracle, IBM, HP and Dell---as the IT giants aim to grab more data center spending.

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