Cisco on server collision course

* How far is Cisco moving outside of its niche?

It's hard to ignore the recent revelation that Cisco is working on a blade server of its very own, a development that seems to go to the very heart of what "network architecture" is.

Network World's Jim Duffy last week wrote that Cisco is expected to introduce blade servers next year, servers that would compete head-on with those from IBM and HP.

If I remember right, Cisco doesn't like to compete in a market unless it thinks it can reach No. 1 or No. 2 in that market. Does Cisco really believe it can knock down those industry giants - and, as Duffy points out, partners - on what is essentially their home turf?

I wonder. It seems to me that Cisco is probably looking at a more targeted application for those blade servers. In fact, Duffy quotes a Cisco exec as saying that there are areas to be addressed at the "seams" between servers, switches and storage technologies, which would indicate such a limited application. But then he goes on to talk about how Cisco wants to make the "whole" environment "homogeneous," which sounds like something larger.

Some way, somehow, Cisco's ambitions will bump into those of IBM and HP. This all reminds me of when Cisco bought WebEx a year and a half ago, and we were told that Cisco was now competing more directly with Microsoft. Clearly, Cisco is breaking out of its networking niche, and bumping into some major players in the process.

Perhaps a clash was inevitable. The idea of blade servers, where the switch is integrated into the same chassis with the networked blades, created a location where networking and computing were brought even closer together. IBM and HP don't just put their blade servers out there; they bring in Blade Network Technologies' specialized blade server switch to connect them. In that sense, IBM and HP bumped into Cisco first.

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