IBM Testing Network Waters

Arthur Cole

Has IBM finally caught the enterprise networking bug? And if so, is there enough time to establish itself as a full server/storage/networking partner before the next phase of enterprise architecture is firmly in place?

These are my two main questions as I contemplate the ramifications of the company's recent acquisition of Blade Network Technologies, a manufacturer of edge switching systems designed to accommodate advanced virtual and cloud environments.

It seemed that for a while, IBM was content to concentrate on the server and storage sides of data center infrastructure and rely on partners like NextIO and Qlogic to handle the messy aspect of shuttling data between the two. That was a distinct departure from the strategies of Cisco and HP, which sought to own all three legs of the enterprise stool. For customers, it was a question of backing a single-vendor approach to broad data environments or a looser mix-and-match style offering greater flexibility.

Now, the purchase of one small company will certainly not turn IBM into a networking powerhouse overnight, and it certainly does not approach the core capabilities of a Cisco Nexus platform, but it does give IBM a strong wedge to pry open some of Cisco's entrenched market share. On that score, Blade has already shown its ability to go up against Cisco as an independent company, and should find its position enhanced even further as part of Big Blue.

And let's not overlook the fact that Blade's technology will help IBM wage war over the two major trends taking place in the enterprise: cloud computing and networking convergence. By incorporating network intelligence into the server, IBM enhances its ability to pool hardware resources to handle ever-increasing data loads. Plus, it comes at a time when enterprises are rethinking network configurations and the long-standing relationships they've had with hardware providers.

The question remains, though, whether IBM truly intends to become a networking powerhouse like its rivals or is content to bring just enough technology in-house to deliver targeted solutions for specific applications and workloads. If it's the latter, it certainly has the broad industry support to make it happen. If it's the former, it has a lot of catching up to do.

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