Last March, HP CEO Léo Apotheker dismissed Cisco as neither a threat nor even an annoyance in the battle for server market share. Responding to Cisco's claims that its UCS system was enjoying rapid sales growth, Apotheker said, "They must be selling on planet Zircon."
Whether or not the Zirconians are, in fact, buying Cisco servers isn't clear. What is evident, however, is that Cisco is seeing more and more Earth-based organizations investing in its UCS x86 blades. According to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker, Cisco now holds the third-largest share of the blade server market in terms of factory revenue -- not too bad a showing, considering its relatively late arrival to the party in 2009, compared to market leader HP, second-place IBM, and now fourth-place holder Dell.
Yes, HP is still the blade king, mind, claiming a full 50 percent of the market for the quarter, according to IDC. IBM came in a distant second with 20.2 percent of the pie. Cisco's slice represented 9.4 percent, while Dell finished with 8.4 percent of total factory revenue for blades.
Cisco to HP: Can you UCS now?
What's striking, however, are Cisco's gains in the blade market, relative to its competitors, since diving in back in 2009. Worldwide, Cisco locked in 10.5 percent of the market share, while HP dropped from 54.2 percent to 48.4 percent; IBM dipped from 26.8 percent to 20 percent; and Dell remained flat at 9.3 percent.
Cisco has seen even great growth in the United States, grabbing 19.7 percent of the blade market since Q2 of 2009. HP's portion dropped nearly 11 percent from 56.7 percent to 45.8. IBM saw a drop of 8.6 percent, from 27.1 to 18.5 percent. Dell saw a small bump, up from 10.8 percent to 12.2 percent.
The question, then, is what has drawn Cisco's current list of 5,400 blade server customers (up from 900 in Q3 of 2010) to sign on with a company that's better known for networking. Blades sales are smoking hot right now, with revenue growing at twice the rate of the total markets, according to IDC Enterprise Servers Research Manager Jed Scaramella: "Blades represent a higher-value sale for server vendors, being increasingly deployed in converged systems to support virtual environments. The larger memory footprints and I/O interconnects needed have resulted in a continual increase in average selling prices for blade systems."