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Over at Dell, the name of the game has been to play Switzerland when it comes to server virtualization.

Rick Becker, vice president of software and solutions at Dell's Product Group, says that he has been hammered by questions from the press and analyst communities about Cisco's impending announcements. "Cisco hasn't even announced anything about being in the server space," Becker says with a laugh, and you get the sense he knows the details of the announcement. "But the server business is a tough business," he adds.

Becker explains that when rival Hewlett-Packard launched VirtualConnect for its blade servers, it competed with Cisco and not only introduced a proprietary switching infrastructure for network and storage I/O, but also took some money away that would have probably gone to Cisco. "As HP encroaches on Cisco's business, Cisco is trying to figure out what it can do. It is going to be interesting to see how this all turns out."

So maybe Cisco can buy Dell for the servers for its Unified Computing strategy and then sell off the PC business to Acer or Lenovo and the printer business to Lexmark. Pull an IBM, so to speak, and ditch the low-margin businesses.

Speaking of Big Blue, IBM already explained to El Reg that it isn't afraid of Cisco entering the server racket.

And Hewlett-Packard is similarly in good humor. Jim Ganthier, who wrote the business plan for Compaq's iPaq switching business back in 1999 (since merged into HP's ProCurve switch business) and who is now vice president of software and blades in HP's Enterprise Storage and Server division, is not impressed with what he has heard about the Unified Computing strategy.

"I am guessing," Ganthier opined, "but from what I have read, Cisco is going to tell people that they are going to create an end-to-end virtualization story. And sure, Cisco will have a couple of big customers sign up for the beta. But what they are presenting today as a vision, HP is already delivering today."

With the EDS business now part of HP, there's the services angle to consider as well, says Ganthier. "For HP, the bottom line is that people aren't talking about servers, or storage, or switches individually," he says. "People are looking at this as resource pools, and then they want help with managing the physical assets, other services, financing - help with the entire lifecycle of products in the data center, including recycling."

As you might expect, Blade Network Technologies, which has about half of the switch market share on blade servers, is defending IBM and HP as well as trumpeting the fact that it has twice the share of Cisco among blade buyers. (All the more reason for Cisco do something radical, then, isn't it?)

"It's no longer a secret that Cisco is preparing to announce a blade server," wrote Vikram Mehta, president and CEO at Blade in an email exchange. "What are perhaps not so well understood are the vast and arguably adverse implications for customers of Cisco’s attempt to lock customers into a proprietary and high-cost solution.

"Cisco may be on its way to discovering that it’s not only foolhardy to undermine the strengths of HP and IBM but very dangerous to take customers for granted and try and lock them into a high-cost, proprietary solution. IBM and HP have great relationships; offer open, low cost solutions; and have decades of experience delivering such solutions. It won't take customers very long to see through the 'Cisco's way or the highway' tactics."

For its part, networking and adapter supplier Brocade says that it is not going to comment on what Cisco is up to until after the March 16 Unified Computing launch. ®

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