Rivals or Partners? HP and Cisco Announced the Cisco Fabric Extender for HP BladeSystem

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.

Cisco and HP Collaborate on Network Switches for Joint HP Blade Server Users

Are Cisco and HP rivals? Or partners? 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.


Here’s a look at some of the notable commentary on its announcement:

  • Cisco Blog – Sashi Kiran from Cisco: “The Cisco Fabric Extender for HP BladeSystem was not designed to compete with either company’s offerings. Its purpose is to allow our customers the freedom to mix HP server blades with Cisco Networking. Customers are free to evaluate the merits of other HP and Cisco offerings and determine the best products for their needs.”


  • Network World – It’s a curious collaboration, considering that Cisco and HP have become very vocal rivals since Cisco’s entry into the data center server market and HP’s acquisition of networking pioneer 3Com. Indeed, it would seem to undermine both companies’ respective efforts in those market expansions. And HP is a leading provider of blade switches for data center servers. “I’m a little surprised,” says Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research. “I thought they would have gone to anyone but Cisco.”


  • CRN – Wendy Bahr, senior vice president of Cisco’s Global Strategic Partner Organization, acknowledged that the collaboration with HP is an eyebrow-raiser, especially given the steely competitive rhetoric that’s been going back and forth between HP and Cisco all year long. The truth is, however, that a lot of enterprise customers have both HP and Cisco in their data center environments, Bahr said. It makes sense for those customers and for the solution providers that serve them to preserve those investments, and make money for everyone in the process.


For more detailed inquisitive minds, here are some questions we already answered.

Why is Cisco doing this collaboration in a market we compete so heavily?

It is simple. Cisco and HP both have a large base of common customers. Many have standardized on HP servers and enclosures while investing in Cisco’s networking infrastructure. For those customers, it is important to ensure they have choice and investment protection. HP has always welcomed outside interconnect vendors to join their BladeSystem portfolio and Cisco has traditionally been a part of that portfolio with Catalyst 3020 and 3120 series and the MDS9124 Fabric Switches.


Great, how do I buy this product?

HP and their channel partners who sell blade server products will be able to sell the Nexus B22 FEX for HP BladeSystem.


What other products have HP and Cisco co-engineered and brought to market?

HP and Cisco have worked together to develop blade switch products extending back to 2004. These include Ethernet switches such as the Catalyst 3020 and 3120 series and the MDS9124 Fabric Switches


What does this mean to Cisco respective product lines?

There is NO change to either company’s products or services. Both HP and Cisco will continue to individually develop our existing networking and server portfolios in an effort to provide our customers with new and innovative features.

Cisco continues to invest in and see tremendous growth both in our network and compute portfolio.


How does this combined solution compete with existing Cisco and HP server and networking solutions?

The Cisco Fabric Extender for HP BladeSystem was not designed to compete with either company’s offerings. Its purpose is to allow our customers the freedom to mix HP server blades with Cisco Networking. Customers are free to evaluate the merits of other HP and Cisco offerings and determine the best products for their needs.

Cisco has always committed to delivering architectural flexibility and evolutionary Innovation to our customers. This is an example of extending that concept with other vendors.


Will there be others vendors who OEM Cisco Fabric Extender technology?

HP is the first major server vendor to OEM this technology and to participate in Cisco’s FEX Ecosystem. Since FEX blade form factors are specific to each vendor’s chassis, it will involve custom engagement and engineering with other server vendors. Cisco will not comment on any plans in progress, but encourages other vendors to join the fabric extender ecosystem.

Over 6000 customers have bought over 8 million FEX ports since their introduction. We invite our common customers to try out this new innovation and experience benefits. You can find more information about Cisco’s Nexus B22 Fabric Extenders at www.cisco.com/go/b22fex and about Cisco’s Unified Fabric approach at www.cisco.com/go/unifiedfabric.



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