Cisco and Brocade are shaping up to wrest control of the data centre from server vendors HP and IBM. What will Microsoft do?

Brocade is launching its data centre fabric and data centre backbone switch ideas. Cisco and VMware are talking about a data centre O/S.

It is as if Brocade wants to parley its SAN fabric switch/director presence into a data centre control plane consolidating virtual servers, virtualised storage area networks (SANs) and virtual file services (FANs). Cisco wants to parlay its data centre networking presence into a data centre control facility through acting as a resource hub for server and storage networks.

The glue is data centre class-Ethernet, loss-less and with quality of service through flow control. Over it travels the protocols of everyday networking life: TCP/IP; Fibre Channel: iSCSI. To it are connected mainframe channels such as ESCON and FICON, and also, naturally, everyday Ethernet.

The vision, or the fantasy, depending upon where you come from, is that an application needs provisioning. With one click on a data centre O/S pane of glass or with one policy-driven event alert, a virtual server is provisioned from VMware with an image picked off a virtualised storage facility, be it block- or file-based. Networking services come via a virtualised network interface. Data protection policies - encryption; replication; backup to disk; de-duplication; snapshot; disaster recovery - are applied automatically. People who can access the application come from an associated LDAP or AD policy/file.

This immensely complicated automated data centre infrastructure is being built on the foundation of VMware supported by a resurgent virtualised storage idea. The twin peaks of virtual servers and storage are being used to support a data centre fabric universe, rather like the earth depicted as a turtle on three supports - any one for Disc World? (The third support would be virtual networking - but how real is that, apart from miniature networking niches like Emulex' and QLogic's virtualised HBAs for VMware?)

What will the data centre server vendors say about this? Surely HP and IBM, but not Dell - it's a volume server shipper but a data centre minnow - or Sun - another volume play - surely HP and Sun will not sit idly by whilst Cisco and Brocade consign their servers to mere physical containers within which VMware has a free run?

Is Cisco getting too big for its boots? Has Brocade the sheer stature, technical smarts, enterprise selling smarts and perceived data centre table stakes to even venture onto this global-class, data centre O/S, poker game?

And what about the dog that hasn't barked again? Where are Ballmer's boys in this? Is this one game that Microsoft will be content to watch from the sidelines? Will it cosy up to Cisco, or possibly Brocade? Not play in the IT poker game with the highest stakes in the world, data centre control? Microsoft; not play? Never.

What Redmond does will be a major influencer here. I think we are witnessing the birth of five card stud, aka data centre O/S poker, and the hands are being dealt to Cisco, Brocade, IBM, HP and Microsoft. No-one else really matters and only two players have picked up their hands and started betting. What will HP, IBM and Microsoft do: fold; or put money on the table?