Avaya is prepping to launch its one-box data centre strategy early in October, the VSP 9000 switch, as a counter to Cisco's more comprehensive approach. The Avaya plan differs from Cisco's one box strategy in that Avaya's box is purely a switch, while Cisco's is a chassis containing a switch, servers, storage and applications.

Avaya has little choice but to present a limited offer because it lacks the other components among its assets. Until it bought Nortel last year the company described itself as a communications software specialist, but the purchase brought along Nortel's collection of networking gear, including the in-development VSP 9000.

Now with the switch in customer trials prepping for release, Avaya is making a virtue out of its approach and finding fault with Cisco's "toaster box" solution, as Avaya's vice president and general manager of data solutions Steven Bandrowczak calls Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS).

Bandrowczak says UCS doesn't provide customers with the same flexibility that a multi-vendor data centre infrastructure does. For its part, Cisco says its UCS architecture improves management, energy efficiency and the need for peripheral gear.

But Bandrowczak says the right way to approach data centre design is by analysing all the applications then fine-tuning the rest of the infrastructure to make them perform optimally. "You don't make a data centre decision based on a box," he says. "It starts with your application, and you look for the optimal environment for running that application."

He says Avaya is focused on the infrastructure piece of the equation, and leaves the rest up to other vendors, allowing customers to pick and choose among products that best fit their particular needs. For instance, Bandrowczak says CIOs tweak their data centre infrastructure to fit the demands of their applications, which can mean tinkering with memory, CPUs and types of storage to boost performance, which can be done better if customers deal with vendors specialising in that kind of gear.

That means dealing with more vendors, something customers may wish to avoid. Still, Avaya has absolutely no interest in supporting other key elements of a broad data centre strategy such as applications, servers, storage and databases, Bandrowczak says. It's sticking with the VSP 9000.

The company plans to market the device to current Nortel switch customers who might reasonably be expected to appreciate the technology. Bandrowczak says it will also market to Avaya's voice and unified communications customers, a bigger stretch. It's not apparent that a business open to Avaya's communications offerings would have no inherent reason to consider Avaya's data centre switch. Indeed, it's likely the decision maker on data centre switches isn't the one deciding about communications.

On the economic side of the equation, the switch will save businesses money, but not on the price of the switch itself. If considered along with energy consumption, acquiring and maintaining the space it occupies and the fact that it's designed to last seven to 10 years rather than three to five, total cost of ownership is 40% to 50% less than competitors' TCO, Bandrowczak claims. He doesn't quote specific dollar amounts. The switch will support over time 10Gbps, 40Gbps and 100Gbps interfaces as they evolve and backplane upgrades, he says.