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HP, Microsoft form $250m IT tag team

Frontline battle with Sunacle, CiscoEMCVMware

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With Cisco Systems, EMC, and VMware teaming up to sell integrated IT stacks, Oracle buying Sun Microsystems to create its own integrated stacks, and IBM having sold integrated legacy system stacks and rolling in profits from them for decades, it was only a matter of time before other big IT players paired off

Today, through a three-year, $250m partnership named Frontline, the number one server maker, Hewlett-Packard, and the number one operating system player, Microsoft, paired off to jointly create, sell, and support Windows-based stacks.

Microsoft and HP did not think it wise to divulge whatever configurations it had in mine for Frontline systems -unlike the Acadia partnership between Cisco, EMC, and VMware, which was announced last November and which includes very precise preconfigured systems called Vblocks that the three are peddling.

We can infer from the Frontline alliance page hosted at the Microsoft site that it will include stacks based on HP's ProLiant and Integrity servers, StorageWorks storage, ProCurve switches, and myriad system management tools and services; on the Microsoft side, it includes Windows, Systems Center management tools, Hyper-V virtualization, Exchange mail server and SQL Server database programs, and ERP and BI application software. It looks like an integrated stack running SQL Server is going to be the first Frontline offering.

More than anything else, the Frontline partnership seems geared towards keeping Cisco's "California" Unified Computing System and their integrated VMware vSphere virtualization from gaining traction among HP's server and storage channel partners and Microsoft's Windows channel partners. It's also a way to keep the Oracle-Sun combo from creating and pitching its own integrated stacks to channel partners (who reach most of the SMBs in the world) and directly to enterprise customers (who thus far have seemed to like picking and choosing their own components and integrating their own systems, much to IBM Global Services' great joy).

Avnet, one of the two big master server resellers in the world, has already partnered with Cisco so its downstream channel partners can push Cisco's blade and rack servers as well as various networking and storage products, and it probably won't be long before Arrow Electronics does too. Avnet and Arrow account for a lot of server and storage sales globally.

But this is no reactionary move, according to Mark Hurd, HP's president, chief executive officer, and chairman, who was joined on a conference call with Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, to explain the Frontline partnership. (Or rather, not explain it too much lest we actually understand what it is and what it is not).

"This is the deepest level of integration and collaboration we have ever done - we're talking about optimizing machine capability around SQL Server," explained Hurd. He added a few more buzzwords with the word "capability" used like a comma and then added that Microsoft and HP were dedicating 11,000 people to the Frontline integrated product stacks.

"This is breakthrough stuff from us, and this is different from what we have done before." Hurd said that HP and Microsoft have been talking about doing something like this "for years" and that Ballmer sat down with him in earnest in April 2009 to hammer out some kind of collaborative deal that resulted in the Frontline stacks.

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