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FRONTRUNNERS :: HP :: Cisco :: IBM :: VMware
CHALLENGERS :: Oracle :: Microsoft
LONGSHOTS :: Brocade :: Juniper :: Liquid Computing :: Novell

Data center derby heats up

Handicapping the crowded field, from the odds-on favorites to the long shots.

By , Network World
June 15, 2009 12:02 AM ET
Data Center Derby

Network World - Network thoroughbred Cisco jumps into the blade server market. Server stallion HP adds security blades to its ProCurve switches. IBM teams up with Brocade. Oracle buys Sun. And everybody courts that prize filly VMware.

In this era of server consolidation and virtualization, green initiatives and cloud computing, the data center is in flux and all the major vendors are jockeying for position, galloping in with new products, strategies and alliances.

"What you see right now is everybody shoring up and getting as many offerings as they can to provide all the hardware in the data center. Cisco, for example, wants to make it so you can be a complete Cisco shop, including all your servers," says Mitchell Ashley, principal consultant with Converging Networks and a Network World blogger.

Cisco's blade servers are part of its data center platform, called the Unified Computing System (UCS), which includes storage, network and virtualization resources. Cisco's platform includes VMware's vSphere technology and partnerships with BMC Software, EMC, Intel, Microsoft and Oracle.

But Cisco's entry into the data center fray has kicked up some dust among its longtime server partners HP and IBM, and forced all of the major players to respond in some way. "Cisco has been so successful in the network space, all the other vendors have to take it seriously at the data center level,'' says Anne Skamarock, a research director at Focus Consulting.

The resultant flurry of activity has included:

•  HP releasing the BladeSystem Matrix, a converged software, server, storage and network platform. (See an exclusive review of the BladeSystem Matrix.)

•  IBM deepening its relationship with Brocade, deciding to sell Brocade's Foundry switches and routers under the IBM banner.

•  Juniper unveiling Stratus Project, a multiyear undertaking through which it will partner with server, storage and software companies to develop a converged data center fabric.

•  Oracle buying Sun for its hardware and software, then grabbing Virtual Iron for its Xen-based hypervisor.

"Everything is pointing to a unified fabric," says John Turner, director of network and systems at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.

Decision time for IT execs

"We're in a transition, and it's very important not to just buy who you bought from before. This is a great time to evaluate your vendors, ask about long-term road maps and partnerships, see how integrated they are," says Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala. "I wouldn't make any decisions hastily if I were in IT."

This industry shakeup could also provide an opportunity for some long-shot vendors to make a move on the leaders. Kerravala puts Brocade in this category because of its storage and network strengths, Citrix Systems for virtualization, F5 Networks for networking, and Liquid Computing for fabric computing. "These could be the dark horses," he says.

John Turner

Turner agrees that opportunities are available for the right vendors. "I'm happy with my Cisco network. I'm thrilled with it. No, I'm wowed by it. But that doesn't mean there isn't an opportunity for another vendor like Juniper to come in, pique my interest, gain my respect and get in here," Turner says. "This is an opportunity to take a big leap. Companies are going to be doing big refreshes."

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