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With Lenovo partnership, how does Extreme Networks stack up in the Stack Wars?

Extreme Networks makes an important move, but is it enough for the company to capture some market share?

It seems that data centers have been in continual transition now for the past 15 years. In that time, the industry has seen the rise of server virtualization, the growth of on-demand computing, the transition to network fabrics and the introduction of software defined networks. The latest wave is the movement to converged infrastructure, and Extreme Networks is the latest network vendor to ride this wave by partnering with EMC and Lenovo.

The need for converged infrastructure is certainly there. The concept is to bring servers, network and storage together to create a data center where the IT elements become fluid, orchestrated resources capable of ushering in the cloud era. This is why almost every data center vendor, network, storage or server has released or is part of a converged infrastructure solution. These solutions are pre-integrated, pre-tested and pre-configured and can give customers the confidence that the converged solution will actually provide the functionality require to move into the cloud era. This is why almost every data center vendor today, be it network, storage or server, is part of or owns its own converged “stack."

Extreme, of course, is too small to have its own converged stack. The company is the last of the network pure-plays and is too small to build or buy its own servers and storage, so partnering is the way to go. This morning, the company announced partnerships with two compute vendors where Extreme will be the network component of a converged infrastructure solution.

The first announcement from Extreme is that it had achieved VSPEX certification to offer joint customers a certified, interoperable converged solution. EMC has similar relationships with both Brocade and Cisco, so the impact of VSPEX to Extreme will likely be in its own customer base.

The second partnership was the one that I found interesting, and that was the one with Lenovo. Lenovo is known more as a PC maker, particularly a laptop vendor, and is now the No. 2 share vendor in desktop computing. The company has a great desire to move into the server market, though, with its ThinkServer line. As I stated above, though, if you’re going to be in the data center market, you need a converged offering.

As part of the agreement, Lenovo and its channel partners will be reselling a converged compute, storage and network solution with the Extreme Open Fabric Ethernet switches providing the network capabilities. Extreme should be a great partner to Lenovo as it has built its switches with open, standards-based technology and should align well with Lenovo’s support of the OpenStack cloud initiative.

The partnership could be a real shot in the arm for Extreme. The company has great technology, and it always has, but it has struggled to build share over the years. The company is a little like the 1987 Nolan Ryan, the pitcher who led the National League in ERA and strikeouts but only put up 8 wins. Extreme has the technology to compete with anyone but needs more channel-driven opportunities to put up the “wins,” and Lenovo could give them that. Extreme’s market share certainly isn’t indicative of its quality of product, and even moderate success with Lenovo could boost its share significantly.

For Lenovo, Extreme offers a strong, best-of-breed network technology and the ability to offer customers its own converged stack to compete with the other mainstream compute vendors. In fact, if you look at the other server vendors – Dell and HP - both own network assets. So, if the partnership goes well, I could see Lenovo buying Extreme to round out its own data center portfolio.

The stack wars are certainly on, and the partnership between Lenovo and Extreme give each other what it needs to compete better in this emerging market.

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