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Data centre fuzzification: Clear thinkers needed

How Cisco is trashing the server-storage-switch boundaries

Brown stuff or green field

For the server vendors, this Cisco move is either major league brown stuff hitting their fans or a door-opener. HP loves it - let's build a big box with BladeCentre blades and ProCurve switches, VMware and EVA storage. Thank you Cisco for alerting our customers to the idea of reinvented mainframes and blessing ProCurve.

IBM may be responding with a silent groan as it perceives those bastards are snooping around its mainframe business again. Can we be bothered to build our own commodity-component mainframe out of xSeries blades, someone else's switches, VMware and DS6000 storage? Yes, of course.

Ditto Dell, although more whoops than groans there as it gets to play in the big boys’ playground; just wait while we mix up Dell server blades, VMware, Xsigo's virtualised InfinIBand fabric and Clariion/EquaLogic storage into our very own Dellframe and we're good to go.

Sun, used to seeing marketing glory passing it by, will sigh as it passes by once again, ignoring the Sun lead, and concentrate on building its own Open Network products, cheaper, faster and more capable than your average network switch.

Caught between server vendors eager to enter the commodity unified computing space and storage vendors eager to hook up to network switches with FCoE, the non-Cisco, non-ProCurve switch vendors also have to decide on a brown stuff disaster or green field opportunity definition of the situation facing them.

Brocade, by buying Foundry, has already made the mental jump. It's in there, actively playing, and will aggressively schmooze the server and storage vendors to hook up with its DCX switches. It won't put server blades in its switches though, that being its differentiation from Cisco. Neither will Juniper, already punting an overarching unified data centre strategy. None of the other switch vendors have the market-moving force and financial strength to take on Cisco and the server vendors.

We may see alliances between server vendors and the switch vendors with, perhaps, an acquisition.

The storage vendors do face a threat four to five years out when, and 'if' of course, SSD technology is advanced enough, reliable enough, and affordable enough, for storage blades using SSD technology, to start displacing storage arrays. HP's tie-up with Fusion-io is maybe a very early warning shot here.

Fuzziness in data centre IT is going to widen the buying choices for customers and make their lives more complicated, because as well as adding a new way of doing computing, this unified computing concept is going to be developing alongside cloud computing. If the VMware and Cisco message of interacting private and public clouds takes root then everyone, server, storage and switch vendors, could find themselves dancing the Cisco-VMware two-step. Who would have thought that a likely thing three years ago? ®

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