Cisco Systems aimed straight for datacentres at its annual worldwide analyst conference this week, with company executives claiming many communications functions in servers would be better moved into the network.
That vision is likely to bring the networking giant into conflict with system suppliers, according to some analysts at the conference in California. But Cisco president and chief executive John Chambers saw the move as part of a broad strategy to set Cisco apart from networking rivals gearing up to compete on equipment price.
Cisco has decided to move further into datacentre functionality over the next year, looking to take a role in distributing both storage and processing power across a network in a strategy it calls "service virtualisation".
"It won't be as much dependent on a particular device with a service," said Chambers. "You won't care whether those services are in the datacentre or in remote locations."
Charlie Giancarlo, Cisco's chief technology officer, said the company aimed to help service providers and enterprises move functions such as security, spam filtering and server load balancing from servers to switches or routers. In some cases, those functions could be distributed across the network by making storage and processing power available as a pooled resource across a high-speed network.
Giancarlo used the example of the firewall, which began life on a dedicated server but has gradually moved into the network, first on appliances and subsequently on components of routers and switches.
Other functions that Cisco sees moving into the network infrastructure or being distributed across the network include SSL encryption, intrusion detection systems, RFID functions and disc management.
Giancarlo said these functions took up valuable processing power on a server and could better scale up if they were running in the network infrastructure. Ultimately, he said, Cisco envisioned "intelligent processor switches" that could create massively parallel computing capacity by using resources located in multiple datacentres.