Cisco’s virtual server game

March 5, 2009, 3:00 PM UTC
Cisco CEO John Chambers needs to try new things to keep his company growing while corporate technology budgets shrink.

It is the buzz of the tech world: Cisco Systems may soon try selling servers, those heavy-duty computers that companies use to run critical back-office applications. The prospect of router giant Cisco’s entering the already crowded $55-billion-a-year server market is intriguing (imagine if LeBron James decided to try his hand at football) but also has the potential to disappoint. (Remember Michael Jordan’s ill-fated effort to play professional baseball?)

With his server gambit, Cisco (CSCO) CEO John Chambers appears to be targeting a very specific niche: the trendy “virtualization” segment of the server business, which is expected to grow 43% this year to $2.7 billion worldwide, according to research from Gartner. Virtualization basically is a way to make servers more efficient. Using specialized software, one computer with a hard drive and a network connection can act like several smaller computers and hard drives on different networks. When everything goes right, more work gets done with less hardware and electricity. Multiply that effect in a data center with thousands of servers, and you can see why corporate customers like it, especially in times of cutting costs. Computer maker Dell (DELL), for example, believes it can cut its information technology budget 10% this year without sacrificing productivity.

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