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9/27/2010
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Global CIO: IBM Turns Guns On Cisco With Acquisition Of Blade Network

IBM adds Blade Network's innovative technologies and in-Cisco's-face competitiveness to IBM's expanding ambitions in networking and the data center.

On top of the proven technology innovations and customer relationships IBM is acquiring with Blade Network Technologies, IBM is also gaining an intensely competitive and vocal critic of Cisco Systems in Blade CEO and founder Vikram Mehta.

While driving the company's growth as a deeply focused and successful force in data-center switching over the past several years, Mehta was also a relentless critic of what he called Cisco's proprietary architectures and its delivery of average performance for absolutely premium prices.

One example: about 20 months ago, when Cisco launched its Unified Computing System, Mehta immediately posted on his CEO Blog an entry called, "10 Reasons Why Cisco's UCC Will Get Pushback From Customers," and in a moment I'll share some of Mehta's thinking on that.

But this pattern tells us two strategic outcomes of the the IBM-Blade combination:

1) In Mehta, IBM has brought aboard an executive who found a way slug it out with Cisco in one of its core businesses without being either (a) crushed or (b) acquired.

2) And second, IBM will very likely be taking full advantage of that expertise by having Mehta lead an expanded and relentless assault on Cisco in the data-center market that IBM regards as its to lose.

Two years ago, we might have been able to say that IBM and Cisco could well be candidates for a strategic partnership, as IBM was focusing more of its time and energy on software and services while Cisco was the powerhouse in large-scale enterprise networking. Back then, they might scrapped against each other for a bit of business out around the edges, but they weren't really direct competitors of any consequence.

But my oh my, what a difference 24 months can make! IBM has totally revamped and expanded its hardware line over that time, while Cisco has remade itself as a full-line IT supplier, with not just networking gear but also servers, storage, and a no-holds-barred commitment to becoming a force in the data center and elsewhere.

Along those lines, it's interesting to note the language IBM used in its press release announcing the acquisition because if you take that language at face value—and there's no reason you shouldn't—it positions IBM as a company very eager to be a vigorous player in the networking space (boldface emphasis mine):

"With Blade, IBM can drive innovation at the systems networking level to enable clients to speed the delivery of key information from system to system—for workloads such as analytics and cloud computing—while also reducing data center costs. . . .

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"Over the past 18 months, IBM has expanded its core networking business through relationships with leading networking companies. IBM plans to continue providing clients a choice in core networking solutions through these important, ongoing relationships while using Blade's industry standard-based system networking technology to create systems that are efficient, easy to manage and simple to deploy." (End of excerpt.)

So while IBM didn't specifically call out Cisco to slap leather, the chief executive of the newest addition to its rapidly expanding stable of acquired companies surely has—early, often, and with about as much subtlety as a mouthful of jalapeno jelly. For example:

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