The Secret to How Cisco Took the #1 Blade Server Spot

IDC and Cisco confirmed this week that Cisco has taken the #1 x86 blade server spot in North America for Q1 in 2014 with 40% revenue market share according to a recent CRN report.  This is quite an accomplishment especially since Cisco has only been reporting their numbers for 3 years.  So you might wonder – what is the secret to Cisco’s success?  I have a few ideas (right or wrong) that might shed some light on why Cisco is having success in their blade server business. 

Cisco’s UCS Design is Different

This one is kind of a no-brainer, but when you look at Cisco’s Unified Computing System (UCS) you see that it is a different server design compared to others in the marketplace.  The overall architecture design is implemented as a “system” instead of individual components.  To explain, all other blade servers on the market use integrated networking / storage fabrics within the blade chassis whereas Cisco extends the fabric outside each chassis to a pair of Fabric Interconnects (FI) which not only act to switch the network traffic for the blade chassis but also acts as the centralized management for the server infrastructure. Compared to other blade server offerings on the market, Cisco’s design could be perceived as a simpler model.  When you combine that with its uniqueness, Cisco’s UCS is an interesting product to look at.

Everyone At Cisco Wants to Sell UCS

I’ve heard stories in the past that Cisco was giving UCS chassis to key customers.  If that was true, it’s pretty smart marketing because it makes it easy for customers to buy more .  Regardless of if whether or not Cisco is seeding top customers with UCS, the reality is that they are putting a lot of focus on selling UCS.  I used to joke that even the receptionist at a Cisco office would talk about UCS to you, but the truth of the matter is it appears that every Cisco employee believes that UCS is the best thing since sliced bread.  (If you don’t believe that is true – try and say something negative on social media about UCS and see how quickly you are lit up.)  Between getting a free product to try and hearing enough people saying something is great the results are the same – you are you’re going to want to try it.  IN addition to having employees who are passionate about selling UCS, Cisco has done a great job of getting their partners on the bandwagon.  It seems like every week another partner has a press release obtaining certification to sell UCS so I can imagine Cisco offers a really good incentive program to sell UCS.  Focus, passion and man power always leads to success.

Fewer Products to Sell Allows More Focus on UCS

I know this one will probably prompt some negative feedback from Cisco, but this is a thought I’ve had for a long time.  Cisco doesn’t have as many products to sell so they can focus more on selling UCS.  Yes, I know that Cisco has a large product portfolio, but when you summarize it they fall into 4 groups: Networking, Security, Collaboration or Servers.  Not only do HP, Dell and IBM/Lenovo sell the same type of solutions as Cisco but they also have PCs, peripherals, software, and storage making it harder to focus on “blade server sales.”  For the Cisco sales teams, fewer products means more focused selling – especially when it comes to blade servers.

The Network Is Cisco So Adding Servers is Easier

Cisco has been the market leader in networking for years and have a presence in most IT environments.  If the network is down nearly everything is affected, so in many environments the network infrastructure is off limits – once it is stable, it is not changed.  The networking teams in many organizations are vital in architecture discussions since they are tasked with insuring that any additions to the environment do not affect network uptime or performance.  When it comes down to it, the networking teams rule the datacenter – which is yet another reason that Cisco has been successful in selling UCS.  While not always the case, Cisco servers working with Cisco networking could be seen as posing less of a risk to the network.

Final Thoughts

These are just a few observations about Cisco’s success that I’ve accumulated over the past few years.  Did I get it right?  Do you have different ideas or opposing thoughts – I welcome any comments below.  Congratulations to Cisco for doing a great job increasing their footprint in the blade server market.  It’s obvious HP, Dell and IBM/Lenovo have their work cut out for them.  Taking a look at why Cisco has had success with UCS may help other vendors grow blade server market share in the future. 



Kevin Houston is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of  He has over 17 years of experience in the x86 server marketplace.  Since 1997 Kevin has worked at several resellers in the Atlanta area, and has a vast array of competitive x86 server knowledge and certifications as well as an in-depth understanding of VMware and Citrix virtualization.  Kevin works for Dell as a Server Sales Engineer covering the Global Enterprise market.

Disclaimer: The views presented in this blog are personal views and may or may not reflect any of the contributors’ employer’s positions. Furthermore, the content is not reviewed, approved or published by any employer.