Cisco Set for Server Push?

Cisco is perhaps best known as a router and switch vendor for networking equipment. In recent years Cisco has expanded beyond its core networking roots to tackle collaboration with the acquisition of WebEx and IPTV vendor Scientific Atlanta.

Now, a report in Monday’s New York Times says Cisco is gearing up to take on yet another market — servers.

A Cisco spokesperson told that Cisco wasn’t directly commenting on the server speculation or the report. However, the spokesperson did note that Padmasree Warrior, Cisco’s CTO, has blogged about the subject of Cisco’s unified computing strategy.

In her Jan. 19th post, Warrior wrote that Cisco is entering new markets and views periods of economic uncertainty as a good time to evolve Cisco’s business.

“Unified Computing is the advancement toward the next generation data center that links all resources together in a common architecture to reduce the barrier to entry for data center virtualization,” Warrior wrote. “In other words, the compute and storage platform is architecturally “unified” with the network and the virtualization platform.”

Warrior did not mention Cisco’s server platforms or products in her post.

The New York Times report claims the new Cisco product line will include a virtualization-aware server and could be officially announced as early as this March.

Shaking up the competition

A new Cisco server line could put Cisco into direct competition with its server vendors partners such as HP, IBM and Dell and shake up the overall IT landscape. Analysts polled by are not surprised by Cisco’s move into servers and see it as part of the continuing trend of IT convergence.

“Cisco is not a networking company and Cisco hasn’t been a pure networking company for a while,” Nemertes Research svp Andreas Antonopoulos told “They are a company that spans multiple areas including security, VoIP, collaboration software and other areas so I don’t really see this as surprising.”

Plus, it’s not as if news or buzz about Cisco’s move into the server space is all that new. After all, such a move would be part of the continued blurring of the lines between what is a server, what is a router and what is an operating system. According to Antonopoulos, it is virtualization technology that is accelerating the blurring.

At some point routers were just network cards on the server, router used to be a software category until it was built as a special purpose box, he continued. “Functionally, some of Cisco’s products have been similar to servers for many years now.”

Cisco’s hardware has been running a lot more than just core networking lately as well with application acceleration features on its WAAS (Wide Area Application Services) and its AXP (Application eXtension Platform) module, which runs Linux applications.

“This represents a slight enlarging of the meaning of the term server and its a natural outcome of the real transformation we’ve seen in the data center over the last five years,” Antonopoulos said. “We’re moving toward an environment where you orchestrate the allocation of resources for an application as near real time and as close to the demand point as possible.”

For Synergy Research Group analyst Ray Mota, Cisco’s move into the server arena also represents consolidation in the sector.
is also not entirely unexpected.

“Cisco, like other enterprises, is not only realizing the importance of consolidation on their CapEx, but is also recognizing the positive impact consolidation can have on organizational efficiency,” Mota told

The modern trend of virtualization consolidation is also one that Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala sees as the driving force behind Cisco’s move into the server space.

“One of the reasons Cisco and other network vendors look at the server space isn’t so much the actual servers; that’s a long established market,” Kerravala told “I think it’s the interplay between the compute infrastructure and the network infrastructure that virtualization has created.”

Cisco’s server approach and its broader vision of a Unified Computing Model could ultimately enable a smarter virtual infrastructure where applications can benefit from network intelligence.

How the competition plays out

“Cisco’s entry into this market and the effect it will have on established players is dependent on how they plan to differentiate themselves,” Synergy Research’s Mota commented. “If Cisco is just planning on introducing another server it will be difficult for them to displace the market leaders IBM, HP, and Dell.

Mota suggested that to differentiate from these competitors and succeed in the market, Cisco might want to address how to better integrate the virtualized server and virtualized networks in the data center.

For , he doesn’t see Cisco’s entry into the server space as stepping on existing server vendors toes at all.

“I think this is beneficial to IBM and HP,” Nemertes’ Antonopoulos argued. “In a strange way, it aligns Cisco’s networking focus.”

Overall, it could mean that Cisco expands into even more dynamic forms of data center architecture.

“All that does is bring closer the vision of cloud computing and distributed server resources that has been the direction we’ve been going in for years,” Antonopoulos said.

“That means that HP and IBM sell more computers to be put in more data centers and servers that run in even more capable networks all orchestrated to work together better than before.”

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