Cisco Gets Into the Hardware Biz
Everyone and their mother has been writing about this, but yes, Cisco is entering the server business. Details are still skimpy, but it looks like it’s a blade server, it’s got VMWare baked in, and the word “virtualization” gets thrown around every three sentences or so. I’ve been talking to some people who don’t understand why Cisco is bothering to do this, but it’s really kind of sensible, in my opinion. Here’s why:
- The server vendors were muscling in on Cisco’s turf – all of the blade server chassis from Dell, IBM, HP, etc. had switch modules that provided connectivity internally. Cisco had their own switch modules for many of these, but it was fairly easy for the server sales rep to trim costs by offering the vendor-branded switches that were centrally supported.
- Server virtualization means fewer switch ports – it’s interesting – I’ve spoken to FC HBA vendors who believe that virtualization is good for their business, as people collapse multiple servers that were not SAN attached (fileservers, print servers, development database boxes), onto one physical server that is SAN attached and probably with multiple ports for extra throughput, thereby increasing the total HBAs sold. Maybe (but that’s another blog post). But since every server already has Ethernet connectivity, every server you virtualize is one less switch port.
- Cisco’s efforts to advance beyond its core competency in IP networking have not been successful – despite their ambitions of having the network be the arbiter of intelligence throughout the infrastructure, they really haven’t been that successful. They acquired Topspin a few years back, but InfiniBand has been relegated to a niche technology for the moment, and Topspin’s I/O virtualization software, which was really very elegant, is a non-starter today. Cisco’s foray into Fibre Channel was widely feared by the competition, but they haven’t been able to capture a ton of market share. Today, people still think of Cisco as an Ethernet and TCP/IP networking provider.
So, if you’re Cisco, you’re trying to get some respect for all of the management and abstraction technology you’ve built and acquired, and putting it in the switch doesn’t get any attention – move it up the stack. Build some servers. I, for one, welcome our new Cisco overlord (assuming they don’t screw it up).