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Unified computing systems integrate more data center hardware

As Hewlett-Packard, Cisco and other vendors pack more data center server and switching functions into one box, they're encroaching on VARs' and integrators' turf.

As vendors pack more data center functions into one box, they're assuming the duties that integrators and VARs used to perform.

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New Hewlett-Packard ProCurve Blade Switches are the latest case in point. The Blade Switches will plug into the same enclosure as HP's BladeSystem servers and will also integrate new and legacy network equipment and both 1GB and 10GB gear, the company said.

The products follow on the heels of the HP Matrix data center server/switch combo delivered in July, which was a reaction to Cisco Systems' Unified Computing System (UCS). All of these offerings aim to meld computing and networking power in one centrally managed piece of hardware.

These vendors "are doing what integrators have done for years," said Shannon Champion, sales engineer for Matrix Integration, a large HP partner based in Jasper, Ind.

The more that HP and Cisco put into these things, the less there is for partners to do.
Zeus Kerravala
senior vice presidentYankee Group

But the vendors say they are trying to ease a customer pain point and that there are still plenty of opportunities for integrators and VARs to add value. HP's server-switch integration will allow the "HP channel to expand into adjacent areas, and it gives them a toolset to do so," said Matt Zanner, director of data center solutions for HP ProCurve.

Vendors are feeling pressure to increase their technology footprints in enterprise data centers and to fill more customer check boxes, analysts say. And data center customers do want a solution, although they may not specifically ask for converged computing/networking/storage in so many words.

"Customers don't really talk much about synced platforms, but they do see the difficulty of managing virtualized environments, and vendors are trying to solve the problem of using virtualization more broadly by tying these components together," said Zeus Kerravala, senior vice president of enterprise research for Yankee Group Research Inc. "The vendors will say that this is not a threat, but eventually it is. The more functionality that HP and Cisco themselves put into these things, the less there is for partners to do."

Experienced VARs know that their value changes as technology matures. The smart integrators keep ahead of the curve and know that many customers do not want to rely on a single hardware vendor for so much of their critical data center infrastructure. Integrators will always be important in heterogeneous shops.

A big shoe that has yet to drop in the whole unified computing systems sweepstakes: storage. Cisco melds its own switches with servers running Red Hat Enterprise Linux in the UCS. Its servers will displace HP servers in some cases. And Cisco is close to storage kingpin EMC but has not made much of a statement about adding storage to the UCS.

It's only a matter of time before HP, which fields servers, switches and storage, makes that leap, Kerravala and others say.

"At that point, the big question becomes what will Cisco do," he said.

The new HP ProCurve 6120, 8206 and 5400 switches are available now for prices ranging from $5,500 to $11,500.

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