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Marguerite Reardon

Staff Writer, CNET

Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems have teamed up to develop a Gigabit Ethernet switch that fits into Hewlett-Packard’s blade server architecture.

HP and Cisco announced Monday that they’ve co-developed a new Ethernet blade switch based on the functionality of Cisco’s 2970 Gigabit Ethernet switch that will fit into HP’s BladeSystem server chassis. The integrated products will make it easier for customers that already use Cisco networking gear to also use HP’s server rack, said Maciej Kranz, senior director of marketing for desktop switching at Cisco. The new blade switch will be available in February.

Blade servers have gained a lot of interest from customers over traditional rack-mounted servers because they take up less space. They also require less cabling and are generally easier to manage.

HP isn’t the only server company with a blade server product line. In March 2003, IBM introduced its Bladecenter T rack. Dell re-introduced its blade server, the PowerEdge 1855, in November 2003.

In the second quarter of 2004, IBM had 44 percent of the $233 million blade market while HP had 32 percent, according to researcher IDC. Dell held 3 percent of the market. IDC estimates the market will grow to $9 billion and represent 29 percent of all server shipments by 2008.

HP’s deal with Cisco could help HP gain ground against IBM. Integrating switching technology into the blade server chassis is crucial to fully realizing the benefits of the form factor, said Mark Potter, senior director of HP’s BladeSystem. Without the integration, customers must interconnect the blade switches to external switches. HP has been selling Ethernet switch blades from Nortel Networks since 2003.

But until now, the company has not had an offering from Cisco, which is the market leader in Ethernet switching, with more than 70 percent market share. IBM announced a deal with Cisco in August of last year.

Even though HP has a division called HP ProCurve that makes networking products, HP’s server division has not integrated any of its own Ethernet switches into the blade server architecture.

“ProCurve really targets small and medium businesses,” Potter said. “The BladeSystem is more for large enterprise data center applications. While it would be possible to develop blade technology for the ProCurve products, that’s not what customers are asking for. They want Cisco compatibility.”