There has been a lot of press about IBM’s acquisition of BNT (Blade Network Technologies) focusing on the economics and market share of BNT as a competitor to Cisco and HP’s ProCurve/3Com franchise. But at its heart the acquisition is more about defending and expanding a position in the emerging converged server, networking, and storage infrastructure segment than it is about raw switch port market share. It is also a powerful vindication of the proposition that infrastructure convergence is driving major realignment in the vendor industry.
Starting with HP’s success with its c-Class blade servers and Virtual Connect technology, and escalating with Cisco’s entrance into the server market, IBM continued its investment in its Virtual Fabric and Open Fabric Manager technology, heavily leveraging BNT’s switch platforms. At some point it became clear that BNT was a critical element of IBM’s convergence strategy, with IBM’s plans now heavily dependent on a vendor with whom they had an excellent, but non-exclusive relationship, and one whose acquisition by another player could severely compromise their product plans. Hence the acquisition. Now that it owns BNT, IBM can capitalize on its excellent edge network technology for further development of its converged infrastructure strategy without hesitation about further leveraging BNT’s technology.
I spent a couple of days with HP executives this week here in Boston. As I worked there myself for 20 years (up to 2001, so I have distance as well), I’d like to comment about how their enterprise business strategy now looks. Of course, I wasn’t alone there; there were 250 of us. Those who follow my peers in Twitter may already be overloaded with multiple 140-character cuts: my impression is that the tool tends to makes them behave more like adolescent journalists than analysts. Often, they were broadcasting tweets before even noticing that a particular statement was “under NDA”. Vendors will learn to be more cautious in the future; which is not good for us analysts. Anyway, here are my highlights of the HP briefings.
HP’s Converged Infrastructure story includes the pending acquisition of 3COM
Nice to see that HP now has (servers + storage + networking) PLUS power & cooling! Now, HP has Cisco squarely within their sights with this one, dropping statements like “they’re just a $30B vendor while we spend over $50B in our supply chain”; “as soon as we can, we will replace ALL our Cisco gear with 3COM and realize 45% savings”; and “of course, all 3COM products use the same operating environment, unlike them”.
My Take: Well, Cisco started this. They are, indeed, seriously threatened. If HP apply their financial muscle and play the pricing game, Cisco’s business and margins may well suffer. Remember, networking is the highest margin area in IT infrastructure: HP is adding it, Cisco is diluting it. But, I also think that Cisco will make other game changing moves in the next months. HP strategists should not be resting on their laurels, they should be doing scenario planning - and thinking way outside the IT infrastructure box.