Category Archives: Citrix

Assessing Dell’s Layer 4-7 Options

As it continues to integrate and assimilate its acquisition of Force10 Networks, Dell is thinking about its next networking move.

Based on what has been said recently by Dario Zamarian, Dell’s GM and SVP of networking, the company definitely will be making that move soon. In an article covering Dell’s transition from box pusher to data-center and cloud contender, Zamarian told Fritz Nelson of InformationWeek that “Dell needs to offer Layer 4 and Layer 7 network services, citing security, load balancing, and overall orchestration as its areas of emphasis.”

Zamarian didn’t say whether the move into Layer 4-7 network services would occur through acquisition, internal development, or partnership. However, as I invoke deductive reasoning that would make Sherlock Holmes green with envy (or not), I think it’s safe to conclude an acquisition is the most likely route.

F5 Connection

Why? Well, Dell already has partnerships that cover Layer 4-7 services. F5 Networks, the leader in the application-delivery controllers (ADCs), is a significant Dell partner in the Layer 4-7 sphere. Dell and F5 have partnered for 10 years, and Dell bills itself as the largest reseller of F5 solutions. If you consider what Zamarian described as Dell’s next networking priority, F5 certainly fits the bill.

There’s one problem. F5 probably isn’t selling at any price Dell would be willing to pay.  As of today, F5 has a market capitalization of more than $8.5 billion. Dell has the cash, about $16 billion and counting, to buy F5 at a premium, but it’s unlikely Dell would be willing to fork over more than $11 billion — which, presuming mutual interest, might be F5’s absolute minimum asking price — to close the deal. Besides, observers have been thinking F5 would be acquired since before the Internet bubble of 2000 burst. It’s not likely to happen this time either.

Dell could see whether one of its other partners, Citrix, is willing to sell its NetScaler business. I’m not sure that’s likely to happen, though. I definitely can’t envision Dell buying Citrix outright. Citrix’s market cap, at more than $13.7 billion, is too high, and there are pieces of the business Dell probably wouldn’t want to own.

Shopping Not Far From Home?

Who else is in the mix? Radware is an F5 competitor that Dell might consider, but I don’t see that happening. Dell’s networking group is based in the Bay Area, and I think they’ll be looking for something closer to home, easier to integrate.

That brings us to F5 rival A10 Networks. Force10 Networks, which Dell now owns, had a partnership with A10, and there’s a possibility Dell might inherit and expand upon that relationship.

Then again, maybe not. Generally, A10 is a seen as purveyor of cost-effective ADCs. It is not typically perceived as an innovator and trailblazer, and it isn’t thought to have the best solutions for complex enterprise or data-center environments, exactly the areas where Dell wants to press its advantage. It’s also worth bearing in mind that A10 has been involved in exchanges of not-so-friendly litigious fire — yes, lawsuits volleyed back and forth furiously — with F5 and others.

All in all, A10 doesn’t seem a perfect fit for Dell’s needs, though the price might be right.

Something Programmable 

Another candidate, one that’s quite intriguing in many respects, is Embrane. The company is bringing programmable network services, delivered on commodity x86 servers, to the upper layers of the stack, addressing many of the areas in which Zamarian expressed interest. Embrane is focusing on virtualized data centers where Dell wants to be a player, but initially its appeal will be with service providers rather than with enterprises.

In an article written by Stacey Higginbotham and published at GigaOM this summer, Embrane CEO Dante Malagrinò explained that his company’s technology would enable hosting companies to provide virtualized services at Layers 4 through 7, including load balancing, firewalls, virtual private networking (VPN),  among others.

Some of you might see similarities between what Embrane is offering and the OpenFlow-enabled software-defined networking (SDN). Indeed, there are similarities, but, as Embrane points out, OpenFlow promises network virtualization and programmability at Layers 2 and 3 of the stack, not at Layers 4 through 7.

Higher-Layer Complement to OpenFlow

Dell, as we know, has talked extensively about the potential of OpenFlow to deliver operational cost savings and innovative services to data centers at service provides and enterprises. One could see what Embrane does as a higher-layer complement to OpenFlow’s network programmability. Both technologies take intelligence away from specialized networking gear and place it at the edge of the network, running in software on industry-standard hardware.

Interestingly, there aren’t many degrees of separation between the principals at Embrane and Dell’s Zamarian. It doesn’t take much sleuthing to learn that Zamarian knows both Malagrinò and Marco Di Benedetto, Embrane’s CTO. They worked together at Cisco Systems. Moreover, Zamarian and Malagrinò both studied at the Politecnico di Torino, though a decade or so apart.  Zamarian also has connections to Embrane board members.

Play an Old Game, Or Define a New One

In and of itself, those don’t mean anything. Dell would have to see value in what Embrane offers, and Embrane and its backers would have to want to sell. The company announced that in August that it had closed an $18-million Series-financing round, led by New Enterprise Associates (NEA). Lightspeed Venture Partners and North Bridge Ventures also took part in the round, which followed initial lead investments in the company’s $9-million Series-A funding.

Embrane’s product has been in beta, but the company planned a commercial launch before the end of this year. Its blog has been quiet since August.

I would be surprised to see Dell acquire F5, and I don’t think Citrix will part with NetScaler. If Dell is thinking about plugging L4-7 holes cost-effectively, it might opt for an acquisition of A10, but, if it’s thinking more ambitiously — if it really is transforming itself into a solutions provider for cloud providers and data centers — then it might reach for something with the potential to establish a new game rather than play at an old one.

OVA Members Hope to Close Ground

I discussed the fast-growing Open Virtualization Alliance (OVA) in a recent post about its primary objective, which is to commoditize VMware’s daunting market advantage. In catching up on my reading, I came across an excellent piece by InformationWeek’s Charles Babcock that puts the emergence of OVA into historical perspective.

As Babcock writes, the KVM-centric OVA might not have come into existence at all if an earlier alliance supporting another open-source hypervisor hadn’t foundered first. Quoting Babcock regarding OVA’s vanguard members:

Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, AMD, Red Hat, SUSE, BMC, and CA Technologies are examples of the muscle supporting the alliance. As a matter of fact, the first five used to be big backers of the open source Xen hypervisor and Xen development project. Throw in the fact Novell was an early backer of Xen as the owner of SUSE, and you have six of the same suspects. What happened to support for Xen? For one, the company behind the project, XenSource, got acquired by Citrix. That took Xen out of the strictly open source camp and moved it several steps closer to the Microsoft camp, since Citrix and Microsoft have been close partners for over 20 years.

Xen is still open source code, but its backers found reasons (faster than you can say vMotion) to move on. The Open Virtualization Alliance still shares one thing in common with the Xen open source project. Both groups wish to slow VMware’s rapid advance.

Wary Eyes

Indeed, that is the goal. Most of the industry, with the notable exception of VMware’s parent EMC, is casting a wary eye at the virtualization juggernaut, wondering how far and wide its ambitions will extend and how they will impact the market.

As Babcock points out, however, by moving in mid race from one hypervisor horse (Xen) to another (KVM), the big backers of open-source virtualization might have surrendered insurmountable ground to VMware, and perhaps even to Microsoft. Much will depend on whether VMware abuses its market dominance, and whether Microsoft is successful with its mid-market virtualization push into its still-considerable Windows installed base.

Long Way to Go

Last but perhaps not least, KVM and the Open Virtualization Alliance (OVA) will have a say in the outcome. If OVA members wish to succeed, they’ll not only have to work exceptionally hard, but they’ll also have to work closely together.

Coming from behind is never easy, and, as Babcock contends, just trying to ride Linux’s coattails will not be enough. KVM will have to continue to define its own value proposition, and it will need all the marketing and technological support its marquee backers can deliver. One area of particular importance is operations management in the data center.

KVM’s market share, as reported by Gartner earlier this year, was less than one percent in server virtualization. It has a long way to go before it causes VMware’s executives any sleepless nights. That it wasn’t the first choice of its proponents, and that it has lost so much time and ground, doesn’t help the cause.

OVA Aims to Commoditize VMware’s Advantage

Although it’s no threat to VMware yet, the growth of the Open Virtualization Alliance (OVA) has been impressive. Formally announced in May, the OVA has grown from its original seven founding members — its four Governing Members (Red Hat, Intel, HP, and IBM), plus  BMC, Eucalyptus Systems, and Novel (SUSE) — expanding with the addition of 65 new members in June, finally encompassing  more than 200 members as of yesterday.

The overriding objective of the OVA is to popularize the open-source Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) so that it can become a viable alternative to proprietary server-virtualization offerings, namely market leader VMware.  To achieve that goal, OVA is counting on broad-based industry support from large and small players alike as it works to accelerate the development of an ecosystem of KVM-based third-party solutions. In conjunction with that effort, OVA also is encouraging interoperability, promoting best practices, spotlighting customer successes, and generally raising awareness of KVM through marketing events and initiatives.

Give the People What They Want 

While VMware isn’t breaking out in a cold sweat or losing sleep over OVA, it’s clear that many members of OVA are anxious about the potential stranglehold VMware could gain in cloud infrastructure if its virtualization hegemony goes unchecked. In that regard, it’s notable that certain VMware partners — IBM and HP among them — are at the forefront of OVA.

If customers are demanding VMware, as they clearly have been doing, then that’s what IBM and HP will give them. It’s good business practice for service-based solution providers to give customers what they want. But circumstances can change — customers might be persuaded to accept alternatives to VMware — and IBM and HP probably wouldn’t mind if they did.

Certainly VMware recognizes that its partners also can be its competitors. There’s even well-worn industry phrase for  it: coopetition. At the same time, though, IBM and HP would welcome customer demand for an open-source alternative to VMware, which explains their avidity for and evangelization of KVM.

Client-Server Reprise?

An early lead in a strategic market can result in long-term industry dominance. That’s what VMware wants to achieve, and it’s what nearly everybody else — excluding VMware’s majority shareholder, EMC — would like to prevent. Industry giants IBM and HP have seen this script play out in the client-server era with Microsoft’s Windows, and they’re not keen to relive the experience in cloud computing.

VMware’s customer appeal and market differentiation derive from its dominance in server virtualization, a foundation that allows it to extend up and out into areas that could give it a stranglehold on cloud computing’s most valuable technologies. Nearly every vendor with a stake in the data center is keeping a wary eye on VMware. Some, such as Microsoft and Oracle, are outright competitors seeking to cut into VMware’s market lead, while others — such as HP, IBM, and Cisco — are partnering pragmatically with VMware while pursuing strategic alternatives and contingency plans.

Commoditizing Competitor’s Edge

In promoting an open-source alternative as a means of undercutting a competitor’s competitive advantage, IBM and its OVA cohorts are taking a page from a well-worn strategic handbook. This is what Google unleashed against Apple in mobile operating systems with Android, and what Facebook is trying to achieve against Google in cloud data centers with its Open Compute Project. For OVA’s charter members, it’s all about attempting to commoditize a market leader’s competitive differentiation to level the playing field — and perhaps to eventually tilt it to your advantage.

IBM and HP have integration prowess and professional-services capabilities that VMware lacks. If they can nullify virtualization as a strategic asset by commoditizing it, they relegate VMware to a lesser role. However, if they fail and VMware’s differentiation is maintained and extended further, they risk losing a great deal of long-term account control in a burgeoning market.

KVM Rather than XenServer

Some might wonder why the open-source server virtualization alternative became KVM and not, say, XenServer, whose custodian, XenSource, is owned by Citrix. One of the reasons could be Citrix’s relatively warm embrace by Microsoft. When Gartner released its Magic Quadrant for x86 Server Virtualization Infrastructure this summer, it questioned whether Citrix’s ties to Microsoft could result in XenServer being compromised. Microsoft, of course, has its own server-virtualization entry in Hyper-V.

In the end, the OVA gang put down its money on KVM rather than XenServer, seeing the former as a less-complicated proposition than the latter. That appears to have been the right move.

Clearly OVA has experienced striking growth in just a few months, but it has a long way to go before it meets the strategic mandate envisioned by its founders.

Will Cisco Leave VCE Marriage of Convenience?

Because I am in a generous mood, I will use this post to provide heaping helpings of rumor and speculation, a pairing that can lead to nowhere or to valuable insights. Unfortunately, the tandem usually takes us to the former more than the latter, but let’s see whether we can beat the odds.

The topic today is the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) Company, a joint venture formed by Cisco and EMC, with investments from VMware and Intel.  VCE is intended to accelerate the adoption of converged infrastructure, reducing customer costs related to IT deployment and management while also expediting customers’ time to revenue.

VCE provides fully assembled and tested Vblocks, integrated platforms that include Cisco’s UCS servers and Nexus switches, EMC’s storage, and VMware’s virtualization. Integration services and management software are provided by VCE, which considers the orchestration layer as the piece de resistance.

VCE Layoffs?

As a company, VCE was formed at the beginning of this year. Before then, it existed as a “coalition” of vendors providing reference architectures in conjunction with a professional-services operation called Acadia. Wikibon’s Stuart Miniman provided a commendable summary of the evolution of VCE in January.

If you look at official pronouncements from EMC and — to a lesser extent — Cisco, you might think that all is well behind the corporate facade of VME. After all, sales are up, the business continues to ramp, the value proposition is cogent, and the dour macroeconomic picture would seem to argue for further adoption of solutions, such as VME, that have the potential to deliver reductions in capital and operating expenditures.

What, then, are we to make of rumored layoffs at VCE? Nobody from Cisco or EMC has confirmed the rumors, but the scuttlebutt has been coming steadily enough to suggest that there’s fire behind the smoke. If there’s substance to the rumors, what might have started the fire?

Second Thoughts for Cisco?

Well, now that I’ve given you the rumor, I’ll give you some speculation. It could be — and you’ll notice that I’ve already qualified my position — that Cisco is having second thoughts about VCE. EMC contributes more than Cisco does to VCE and its ownership stake is commensurately greater, as Miniman explains in a post today at Wikibon:

 “According to company 10Q forms, Cisco (May ’11) owns approximately 35% outstanding equity of VCE with $100M invested and EMC (Aug ’11) owns approximately 58% outstanding equity of VCE with $173.5M invested. The companies are not disclosing revenue of the venture, except that it passed $100M in revenue in about 6 months and as of December 2010 had 65 “major customers” and was growing that number rapidly. In July 2011, EMC reported that VCE YTD revenue had surpassed all of 2010 revenue and CEO Joe Tucci stated that the companies “expect Vblock sales to hit the $1 billion run rate mark in a next several quarters.” EMC sees the VCE investment as strategic to increasing its importance (and revenue) in a changing IT landscape.”

Indeed, I agree that EMC views its VCE acquisition through a strategic prism. What I wonder about is Cisco’s long-term commitment to VCE.

Marriage of Convenience

There already have been rumblings that Cisco isn’t pleased with its cut of VCE profits. In this context, it’s important to remember how VCE is structured. The revenue it generates flows directly to its parent companies; it doesn’t keep any of it.  Thus, VCE is built purely as a convenient integration and delivery vehicle, not as a standalone business that will pursue its own exit strategy.

Relationships of convenience, such as the one that spawned VCE, often do not prove particularly durable. As long as the interests of the constituent partners remain aligned, VCE will remain unchanged. If interests diverge, though, as they might be doing now, all bets are off. When the convenient becomes inconvenient for one or more of the partners, it’s over.

It’s salient to me that Cisco is playing second fiddle to EMC in VCE. In its glory days, Cisco didn’t play second fiddle to anybody.

In the not-too-distant past, Cisco CEO John Chambers had the run of the corporate house. Nobody questioned his strategic acuity, and he and his team were allowed to do as they pleased. Since then, the composition of his team has changed — many of Cisco’s top executives of just a few short years ago are no longer with the company — and several notable investors and analysts, and perhaps one or two board members, have begun to wonder whether Chambers can author the prescription that will cure Cisco’s ills. Doubts creep into the minds of investors after a decade of stock stagnancy, reduced growth horizons, a failed foray into consumer markets, and slow but steady market-share erosion.

Alternatives to Playing Second Fiddle

Meanwhile, Cisco has another storage partner, NetApp. The two companies also have combined to deliver converged infrastructure. Cisco says the relationships involving VCE’s Vblocks and NetApp’s FlexPods don’t see much channel conflict and that they both work to increase Cisco’s UCS  footprint.

That’s likely true. It’s also likely that Cisco will never control VCE. EMC holds the upper hand now, and that probably won’t change.

Once upon a time, Cisco might have been able to change that dynamic. Back then, it could have acquired EMC. Now, though? I wouldn’t bet on it . EMC’s market capitalization is up to nearly $48 billion and Cisco’s stands at less than $88 billion. Even if Cisco repatriated all of its offshore cash hoard, that money still wouldn’t be enough to buy EMC. In fact, when one considers the premium that would have to be paid in such a deal, Cisco would fall well short of the mark. It would have to do a cash-and-stock deal, and that would go over like the Hindenburg with EMC shareholders.

So, if Cisco is to get more profit from sales of converged infrastructure, it has to explore other options. NetApp is definitely one, and some logic behind a potential acquisition was explored earlier this year in a piece by Derrick Harris at GigaOm. In that post, Harris also posited that Cisco consider an acquisition of Citrix, primarily for its virtualization technologies. If Cisco acquired NetApp and Citrix, it would be able to offer a complete set of converged infrastructure, without the assistance of EMC or its majority-owned VMware. It’s just the sort of bold move that might put Chambers back in the good graces of investors and analysts.

Irreconcilable Differences 

Could it be done? The math seems plausible. Before it announced its latest quarterly results, Cisco had $43.4 billion in cash, 89 percent of which was overseas. Supposing that Cisco could repatriate its foreign cash hoard without taking too much of a tax hit — Cisco and others are campaigning hard for a repatriation tax holiday — Cisco would be in position to make all-cash acquisitions for Citrix (with a $11.5 billion market capitalization) and NetApp (with a $16.4 market capitalization). Even with premiums factored into the equation, the deals could be done overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, with cash.

I know the above scenario is not without risk to Cisco. But I also know that the status quo isn’t going to get Cisco to where it needs to be in converged infrastructure. Something has to give. The VCE open marriage of convenience could be destined to founder on the rocks of irreconcilable differences.

ONF Board Members Call OpenFlow Tune

The concept of software-defined networking (SDN) has generated considerable interest during the last several months.  Although SDNs can be realized in more than one way, the OpenFlow protocol seems to have drawn a critical mass of prospective customers (mainly cloud-service providers with vast data centers) and solicitous vendors.

If you aren’t up to speed with the basics of software-defined networking and OpenFlow, I suggest you visit the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) and OpenFlow websites to familiarize yourself the underlying ideas.  Others have written some excellent articles on the technology, its perceived value, and its potential implications.

In a recent piece he wrote originally for GigaOm, Kyle Forster of Big Switch Networks offers this concise definition:

Concisely Defined

“At its most basic level, OpenFlow is a protocol for server software (a “controller”) to send instructions to OpenFlow-enabled switches, where these instructions give direct control over how those switches forward traffic through the network.

I think of OpenFlow like an x86 instruction set for the network – it’s low-level, but it’s very powerful. Continuing that analogy, if you read the x86 instruction set for the first time, you might walk away thinking it could be useful if you need to build a fancy calculator, but using it to build Linux, Apache, Microsoft Word or World of Warcraft wouldn’t exactly be obvious. Ditto for OpenFlow. It isn’t the protocol that is interesting by itself, but rather all of the layers of software that are starting to emerge on top of it, similar to the emergence of operating systems, development environments, middleware and applications on top of x86.”

Increased Network Functionality, Lower Network Operating Costs

The Open Networking Foundation’s charter summarizes its objectives and the value proposition that advocates of SDN and OpenFlow believe they can deliver:

 “The Open Networking Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting a new approach to networking called Software-Defined Networking (SDN). SDN allows owners and operators of networks to control and manage their networks to best serve their users’ needs. ONF’s first priority is to develop and use the OpenFlow protocol. Through simplified hardware and network management, OpenFlow seeks to increase network functionality while lowering the cost associated with operating networks.”

That last part is the key to understanding the composition of ONF’s board of directors, which includes Deutsche Telecom, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Verizon, and Yahoo. All of these companies are major cloud-service providers with multiple, sizable data centers. (Yes, Microsoft also is a cloud-technology purveyor, but what it has in common with the other board members is its status as a cloud-service provider that owns and runs data centers.)

Underneath the board of directors are member companies. Most of these are vendors seeking to serve the needs of the ONF board members and similar cloud-service providers that share their business objective: boosting network functionality while reducing the costs associated with network operations.

Who’s Who of Networking

Among the vendor members are a veritable who’s who of the networking industry: Cisco, HP, Juniper, Brocade, Dell/Force10, IBM, Huawei, Nokia Siemens Networks, Riverbed, Extreme, and others. Also members, not surprisingly, are virtualization vendors such as VMware and Citrix, as well as the aforementioned Microsoft. There’s a smattering of SDN/OpenFlow startups, too, such as Big Switch Networks and Nicira Networks.

Of course, membership does not necessarily entail avid participation. Some vendors, including Cisco, likley would not be thrilled at any near-term prospect of OpenFlow’s widespread market adoption. Cisco would be pleased to see the networking status quo persist for as long as possible, and its involvement in ONF probably is more that of vigilant observer than of fervent proponent. In fact, many vendors are taking a wait-and-see approach to OpenFlow. Some members, including Force10, are bearish and have suggested that the protocol is a long way from delivering the maturity and scalability that would satisfy enterprise customers.

Vendors Not In Charge

Still, the board members are steering the ONF ship, not the vendors. Regardless of when OpenFlow or something like it comes of age, the rise of software-defined networking seems inevitable. Servers and storage gear have been virtualized and have become more application-driven, but networks haven’t changed much in the last several years. They’re faster, yes, but they’re still provisioned in the traditional manner, configured rather than programmed. That takes time, consumes resources, and costs money.

Major cloud-service providers, such as those on the ONF board, want network infrastructure to become more elastic, flexible, and dynamic. Vendors will have to respond accordingly, whether with OpenFlow or with some other approach that delivers similar operational outcomes and business benefits.

I’ll be following these developments closely, watching to see how the business concerns of the cloud providers and the business interests of the networking-vendor community ultimately reconcile.

Latest Market Data Prompts Questions on Cisco Dominance

New data on the state of the Ethernet-switching market surfaced yesterday and today.

First, Dell’Oro Group reported that the Ethernet-switching market grew sequentially at a 20-percent clip in the fourth quarter of 2009. As a result, Cisco, HP, and Juniper were said to have added $600 million in incremental revenue.

Said Alan Weckel, director of research at Dell’Oro:

“Year-end budget spending and supply constraints from the previous quarter helped propel market growth in the fourth quarter. We expect the market to continue to expand in 2010, especially as 10-Gigabit Ethernet continues to grow not only as a server connectivity technology but also as an aggregation technology within the data center.”

Indeed, growth in the Ethernet-switch market is being driven exclusively by adoption of 10-GbE in data centers.

The next piece of market data came from Nikos Theodosopoulos, research analyst with UBS Research. Om Malik reports that Theodosopoulos combed through the Dell’Oro data, did some analysis, and made a few observations of his own. Salient among them is that Cisco is suffering market-share erosion — albeit not of the vertiginous sort — across many of its core switching and routing product groups, among both carrier and enterprise customers.

As reported by Jim Duffy of Network World, Theodosopoulos found that, while Cisco lost share in 2009, vendors such as HP, 3Com, Juniper, Brocade gained ground in the market for Layer 2 and 3 switches. Higher up the stack, F5 Networks and Citrix captured share in the Layer 4-7 segment.

On the routing side of house, Alcatel-Lucent and Juniper advanced relative to Cisco in carrier edge routing. In core routing, Huawei increased its share by nearly two percent while Cisco lost a touch of ground. Meanwhile, Cisco’s share was unchanged in 2009 in enterprise routing.

So, is this the beginning of a steady decline in Cisco’s mainstay businesses? It’s far too early to say. It could be nothing more than a short-term anomaly conditioned by severe recessionary conditions (though Cisco has gained share in previous downturns). Besides, Cisco’s switching and routing franchises are so entrenched that meaningful deterioration in the company’s business fundamentals would be unlikely to occur for some time.

Steady commoditization is the biggest threat CIsco faces in its switching and routing redoubts, and the company saw that threat coming long before now. Confronting low-priced, good-quality, standardized gear from Huawei and 3Com (among others), Cisco knew it had to diversity its product portfolio, not just into higher-end hardware — where it hasn’t done as well against F5, for example, as it might like — but also into software and services.

Just take a look at all the emerging market adjacencies Cisco has entered, including (but not limited to) forays into home networks and home-network management; telepresence, videoconferencing, and video-based collaboration; web-based collaboration and unified communications; mobile video cameras (the Flip); networked digital signage and video-based surveillance; and smart-grid infrastructure. Cisco isn’t stopping there, either. It will continue to push into other markets where data networking confers a feasible mandate.

The challenge for Cisco comes in growing these emerging markets, with their sustainable margins, while coming under mounting commodity pricing pressure in its established switch and router markets. Analysts should closely monitor how quickly these emerging spaces gain substantive traction for Cisco.

Now, you might reasonably ask, where does Cisco’s Unified Computing System (USC) fit? Some people think it was a mistake for Cisco to move into blade servers, that the networking giant made an ill-considered move when it encroached on the territory of erstwhile partner HP and others, such as IBM and Dell.

However, I think Cisco felt it had no choice. The future vendor value in data centers will derive from convergence and integration, which means software and services will be essential to success. The hardware, whether represented by servers or switches, will become commoditized.

Today, that hardware still provides revenue and some margin, but it can also serve as a platform for account consolidation. Fist, though, it’s essential to consolidate the hardware, which is exactly what Cisco and HP are doing. They’re using consolidated hardware to create integrated data-center solution stacks, effectively trying to lock out other players and manage account presence. They’re using hardware for initial leverage, but that’s not the end game.

IBM is taking a different tack, having made the transition to relatively sophisticated data-center software and accompanying services well before its two big rivals altered their courses. Some think IBM will buy a networking vendor, such as Juniper, but I’m not so sure. I think IBM views the underlying hardware as an interchangeable commodity, just the underlying plumbing above which orchestration and management software will run the show.

This battle is just beginning, though, so the vendors — and this humble observer — reserve the right to change tack.

F5 Mentioned as Takeover Target . . . Again

Looking at the search-engine terms that have led people to this impoverished blogdom, I see more than a few of you must have read the recent article in Barron’s on ten technology companies the publication has identified as takeover prospects.

The list includes the following companies: Riverbed Technology Inc.,
BMC Software Inc., F5 Networks Inc., Brocade Communications Systems Inc., Juniper Networks Inc., Red Hat Inc., Citrix Systems Inc., CommVault Systems Inc., 3Par Inc., and NetApp Inc.

Many of the aforementioned really do qualify as the usual suspects. F5 Networks, for example, has been the subject of periodic takeover speculation extending as far back as the late 90s. Obviously, none of that conjecture was validated. For now, anyway, I am willing to bet it will be no different on this occasion.

Among the companies listed, CommVault, 3Par, and perhaps Juniper seem most likely to find buyers in the near term.