HP, Cisco Partner on Network Switches for Joint HP Blade Server Users

Despite a growing rivalry in the data center, HP and Cisco have co-developed a network switch for joint customers who run HP blade servers and Cisco networking gear.

Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard, despite an increasingly strained relationship, apparently can still put aside their differences for the sake of their joint customers who are using HP servers and Cisco switches.

The two companies, once longtime partners that have since become fierce rivals in the data center, have jointly developed the Cisco Fabric Extender for HP BladeSystem-or the Cisco Nexus B22 Fabric Extender (FEX) for HP. The new product, which was co-engineered by both vendors, is aimed at businesses running HP's c-Class BladeSystem blade servers who want to leverage the Cisco United Fabric.

The offering, which is available now from HP and its channel partners, is designed to help businesses that already are running HP blades in Cisco switch environments to expand the technology they have rather than having to make major investments in new products.

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

HP and Cisco have become strong competitors since Cisco first introduced its Unified Computing System (UCS) in 2009. The tightly integrated data center solution not only includes Cisco networking gear but also Cisco-branded blade servers, putting it in direct competition with other systems makers, including HP and Dell. Cisco has done well with the UCS, including earlier this year becoming the world's third largest x86 server vendor, according to IDC. Cisco CEO John Chambers said in August that the company now has more than 7,400 UCS customers.

HP in turn began bulking up its networking capabilities, including its $2.7 billion acquisition last year of 3Com, a move that quickly made the company the No. 2 networking vendor. HP earlier this year rolled out its FlexNetwork architecture, designed to compete with Cisco offerings, and earlier this month expanded the strategy. HP officials have argued that their company's networking portfolio gives enterprises a solid alternative to Cisco's more expensive products, although Cisco officials have campaigned against the idea of a "good enough" network.

However, Cisco officials said there was a need among joint customers for Cisco FEX for HP BladeSystem, despite the differences between the two vendors.

"Our customers want to easily and cost-effectively take advantage of the latest Cisco Unified Fabric innovations," Soni Jiandani, senior vice president of Cisco's Server, Access and Virtualization Technology, said in a statement. "By offering the Cisco Nexus B22 Fabric Extender (FEX) for HP, our customers can extend the benefits of the Cisco Unified Fabric across their existing data center infrastructure."

The two companies listed several benefits to enterprises of the Cisco FEX offering, which was announced Oct. 14. Key among those is increases in both network bandwidth and resiliency for running mission-critical applications across multiple server links.

In addition, the solution offers an easier, consolidated migration path from 1 Gigabit Ethernet networks to 10GbE networks. IT administrators also will have to do less network provisioning and maintenance from the Cisco Nexus parent switch to as many as 24 fabric extenders.

The Cisco FEX for HP BladeSystem is available now, with pricing starting at $9,799.