IBM is acquiring Blade Network Technologies, an Ethernet switch vendor that specializes in blade-server switching for the data center and supports both IBM’s and HP’s blade centers. The move seems targeted at closing a gap between IBM’s data center strategy and Cisco’s UCS, which includes blade switching. The deal gets IBM back into at least the enterprise part of networking, after having sold its networking business to (of all people) Cisco.
But so far it’s a narrow return. IBM didn’t announce any deal to buy a broader-based provider like Brocade, Juniper, F5, or Extreme, all of whom make more general and larger Ethernet products. It didn’t make any attempt to acquire carrier-grade Ethernet switches either, although it might later.
IBM is an IT kingpin, perhaps the greatest IT player the world has ever known. IBM knows data center networks are important to the future of IT, and how important cloud networking is as well. It would clearly prefer to have a series of partnerships with benign network industry players and focus on their own expertise, but the problem is that competitors like HP, Cisco, and perhaps Oracle are threatening to widen the IT space to envelop at least some of networking.
IBM doesn’t want to be caught without an asset that suddenly becomes a competitive focus, so it moves. Once movement starts, it becomes hard to say how far it will go, how much of networking might become a target of IT acquisition.