Intel puts Cisco and HP on alert

Intel silicon in every aspect of your datacenter infrastructure may change the way vendors compete

Getting traction in the datacenter over the last few years has been the single vendor model of datacenter provisioning. Go to one vendor that provides the full menu of datacenter equipment and services and you have only that single throat to choke when dealing with your datacenter vendor. The two best known vendors who have been really pushing this datacenter model are HP, with their Converged Infrastructure, and Cisco, with their Unified Computing.

HP and Cisco take two different approaches to this model. With HP, they are the OEM of almost every product in their portfolio, offering servers, switches and storage under the HP brand, along with a few flavors of operating system software that they own, along with support for their customers choices in OS that run on their hardware. Cisco takes more of the best-of-breed approach, partnering with the vendors that they feel offer the best products for their customers with Cisco being the general contractor and the single point of contact for the customer.  They do, however, offer their own server hardware, in addition to the networking infrastructure products for which they are best known.

One of the primary attractions of this model is the tacit guarantee that when you select products and solutions from either vendors they will work well together. Ideally the sum of the parts will be greater than the whole; the particular combinations and solutions offered by the vendor will perform better and offer better value than the customer piecing together a solution on their own.

But the ramifications of Intel's planned acquisition of Fulcrum Microsystems, a company that designs integrated 10 and 40 GbE Ethernet switching silicon, may upset this single provider solution. Regardless of the single vendor solution a customer may select, chances are that a significant part of the silicon in that solution, at least in the part that handles IT loads, is coming from Intel. Chances are good that Intel will take the technology that they acquire with Fulcrum and develop designs that are tightly integrated with their industry dominant CPU silicon and perhaps even their widely deployed storage silicon. This means that otherwise un-related vendors will be able to sell a single standard solution that potentially has an intercommunication edge over vendors not implementing these Intel solutions.

Of course, there is nothing that would stop HP or Cisco from implementing these technologies in their own products, and if that becomes the cost effective solution for these vendors, I'm sure that they would take that step.  But that would go a long way towards commoditizing the single-infrastructure model, and the differentiator between vendors would come down to the service that they are able to provide to their customers.  And while services are a cash cow for these vendors, without the flagship of their segment defining hardware, it becomes much more difficult for either vendor to stand out from their competitors or claim that their own product-based solutions are the best.