No, Really: Cisco, HP Partner For Data Center Integration

Specifically, the Cisco Fabric Extender for HP BladeSystem, available starting Friday, will allow enterprise customers to use their HP BladeSystem c-Class infrastructure with Cisco's Unified Fabric. In other words, by using the extender, customers can get more out of joint HP-Cisco environments by configuring Cisco Nexus data center switches with the HP BladeSystem, instead of having to choose one vendor's data center products versus the other.

Wendy Bahr, senior vice president of Cisco's Global Strategic Partner Organization, acknowledged that the collaboration with HP is an eyebrow-raiser, especially given the steely competitive rhetoric that's been going back and forth between HP and Cisco all year long.

The truth is, however, that a lot of enterprise customers have both HP and Cisco in their data center environments, Bahr said. It makes sense for those customers and for the solution providers that serve them to preserve those investments, and make money for everyone in the process.

"We want to be able to offer our mutual customers opportunity to extend their investment with us," Bahr told CRN. "We got frequent requests from not only customers but also partners, who are the consultants to the customers. There are going to be times where we believe this is going to be the right alternative."

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HP's BladeSystem c-class consolidates blade server and storage infrastructure technologies to make an enterprise's server-to-network layer more streamlined. According to Bahr, HP and Cisco worked together to develop the Extender technology for cases in which customers rely on both vendors' wares.

"BladeSystem customers are looking to HP for solutions that easily integrate into existing environments," said Jim Ganthier, vice president, marketing, Industry Standard Servers and Software at HP, in a statement. "This new solution allows industry-standard collaboration for enterprises choosing HP BladeSystem c-Class infrastructure while simplifying their connections and reducing network costs."

The Fabric Extender is priced starting at $9,799 and is available now. According to Bahr, it will be available directly from HP, HP solution providers, and Cisco solution providers.

"Certainly we have Cisco partners that will have the capability," she said. "Many of them do sell HP product, this is how it is. If they're an HP channel partner, they will have access to this product."

Collaborating with a direct competitor like HP certainly isn't unheard-of, Bahr noted. Before the two companies' relationship began to sour in 2009, there was plenty of joint development going on.

"There is precedent for this. It is something we had been doing with HP before," Bahr said. "We did take a bit of a hiatus in terms of development."

Bahr didn't provide an estimate on how many joint HP-Cisco partners there are for whom the Extender would be appealing, but she called the number "substantial." The collaboration with HP was born directly of partner and customer requests for such a product, she explained.

Bahr left the door open for future collaboration with HP in areas where it makes sense, as well as collaboration with other server vendors.

"We want to make available to [customers] the best of Cisco technology," she said. "Anything that makes it easier for customers in terms of administration is a very positive thing."

Competition between HP and Cisco has continued to escalate in recent years as Cisco makes gains in the server and data center space behind its Unified Computing System (UCS) and HP touts market share gains against Cisco as HP pushes further into networking. Most recently, Cisco circulated a memo to its global sales force essentially detailing how Cisco can use many of HP's recent public relations blunders to its advantage.