Microsoft, Intel, BMC, EMC Smarts and VMware are set to endorse Cisco's 'Unified Computing' data centre strategy, to be launched next week.

Sources say these companies will be on the roster of partners Cisco is lining up for its strategy, which is also expected to include the introduction of the company's 'California' blade servers. Blade server stalwarts IBM and HP are - or were - longtime partners of Cisco's in data centre applications, but California is expected to strain those relationships and keep those companies off Cisco's partner list this time around.

IBM is uniting with Juniper for Project Stratus; and HP is expected to tightly link its blade server and ProCurve networking operations for next-generation data centre opportunities.

Another significant player for next-gen data centers is Brocade, which recently acquired Foundry Networks for the high-speed Ethernet fabric and foundation of its plans.

"The battle for the next-gen data centers will be competitive, and we view it as a key driver for tech...over the next two to three years," states UBS analyst Nikos Theodosopoulos. "The competition will likely impact networking, storage and hardware...as business models change and market shares shift. M&A is also likely. We will be interested to see how Cisco approaches M&A and partnerships with regard to its data center strategy."

While not exactly a solo effort, Cisco's Unified Computing partnerships appear to be a bit looser than the IBM/Juniper union, observers note. Microsoft, Intel and VMware, for example, partner with several Cisco competitors in data centre applications, and one - Microsoft - competes with Cisco in unified communications and data centre virtualisation.

In addition to the five partners, Oracle and SAP are expected to be present to demonstrate how their applications can be mobilised as virtual machines (VM) in a Cisco Unified Computing environment; and service provider Savvis will be introduced as a beta customer for Cisco Unified Computing products, sources say.

Also, Cisco may roll out an additional wave of partners in a month, which could include Dell, EMC (storage), NetApp and Emulex, according to sources.

Cisco would not confirm the information. But the company is expected to discuss technology dislocation opportunities in current data center architectures, specifically how storage, networking and servers operate as separate platforms, states UBS' Theodosopoulos.

"We expect Cisco to show how its unified communications approach for the data center will run as one unified platform bringing together these different silos, allowing for lower cost of ownership, power utilization and improved performance," Theodosopoulos states.

Other analysts say the network and systems management angle will be key for Cisco as it looks for widespread adoption of its Unified Computing products and strategy.

"The concept of Unified Computing isn't limited to just Cisco; it's an initiative that has to include the entire IT industry," said  Zeus Kerravala of the Yankee Group. "Manageability is the most important component of Unified Computing. Managing VMs is the secret sauce."