Cisco has a number of significant product introductions on tap for 2009 as the company continues to morph from a pure networking player into an overall IT supplier.
Expected next year are internally developed datacentre blade servers; energy efficiency improvements across Cisco's switching portfolio; and a new release of the company's unified communications software for intercompany collaboration.
The product launches are intended to buttress Cisco's strategy to become not just the leading network vendor to corporations and services providers, but to become the leading supplier of overall IT architectures to these constituents.
"The network will enable all forms of communication and IT," said Cisco CEO John Chambers during his keynote address at the company's annual C-Scape analyst conference here last week. "IT is not enabling our strategy, it is our strategy."
Perhaps the most important example of that will be a new Cisco blade server system expected next year. This will take the company into the datacentre compute space, right up against longtime stalwarts - and up to now, Cisco partners - IBM and HP.
Cisco officials interviewed at last week's C-Scape conference would neither confirm nor deny that this system is in development - its code name is "California Server," according to sources - but its impact will be substantial in the market and on its current relationships with compute partners.
"I've seen the product," says Vikram Mehta, CEO of Blade Network Technologies, a supplier of blade server switches to IBM, HP, Dell and others. "I think I know what Cisco's trying to do. Servers are a $60 billion market. And if you're the size of Cisco - [US]$40 billion - you're looking for the next multi-billion dollar market to jump into. There aren't a lot of adjacent markets so they decided to step on their partnerships and take these guys head-on to get a slice of the server action."
Blade, a private company which just announced a record fourth fiscal quarter in terms of Ethernet port shipment growth, believes Cisco's entry into the market will only strengthen the ties Blade has with IBM and HP, Mehta says.
Mehta says there's not much difference between "California" and existing blade servers for datacentres, but there will be a Cisco-specific twist on it to justify its cost and profit margins. Other sources say it is an internally developed system based on Intel x86 processors and a Linux operating system, and it also embeds its recently introduced Nexus 5000 datacentre switches.
In addition, it is expected to support Cisco's unified fabric, which supports multiple data-centre traffic types over a single Ethernet host bus adapter, data-centre automation tools and deep integration with VMware Infrastructure.
Cisco, meanwhile, believes there are areas within the datacentre beyond networking where it can iron out "seams" of technology between servers, switches and storage devices, says John McCool, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Datacentre Switching and Services group.
"I can't comment on unannounced product," McCool says about California.
"I would say though that you see with what we've done with the (Nexus) 1000V -- the interesting things now are happening at the seams of technology. Obviously, we represent the networking component. But you have a virtualisation layer that's now emerged in datacentres and you have compute.
"We're very much interested in making the whole environment -- we call it unified computing -- a homogeneous environment by making those seams not look like gaps in IT," McCool says.
Cisco's Nexus 1000V is a software switch that runs on multivendor servers. It takes a virtual machine's (VM) network and security properties with it while the VM is moved around the datacentre.
McCool was philosophical about the potential impact Cisco's datacentre expansion will have on current partners.