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Servers and switches may be the bones and blood of data centers, but the vendors and politics of the vendors who sell data center equipment trumped any news about technology in 2010. Indeed this past year may have seemed as much like a soap opera as a technology business as the big guns in the industry turned up the heat on their rivals and fired shot after shot in the hopes of scoring points with existing and potential customers and channel partners. Broken alliances, the hiring of rivals’ former executives and filing lawsuits were just a few examples of the drama that was the data center market in 2010. Here are some of the most noteworthy events in the data center market segment in the last year.

HP and Cisco split

With HP and Cisco making further inroads into each other’s territory, the two vendors announced an end to their partnership in February 2010. Although the two companies agreed to honor existing SLAs and other contracts with existing customers, the partnership was officially over at the end of April, kicking off a year of intense rivalry between the two technology giants.

HP, Cisco focus on data center convergence

With their partnership at its end, the gauntlet was thrown down and the two vendors started talking up their own data center convergence plans. Talk was tough, and although the messaging coming out of each vendor wasn’t always pointing fingers, it was always clear they were specifically targeting each other in their marketing initiatives.

HP, Cisco push partners to choose a side

Many partners sell either HP or Cisco products, but there are many in the channel who take a best-of-breed approach. HP and Cisco made that difficult for partners when HP scheduled its partner conference to coincide with Cisco’s partner conference in April. At the same time, at least one channel partner told Channel Insider that HP wouldn’t allow a customer deal to be registered because the customer wanted Cisco switches instead of ProCurve. Apparently it was an “all or nothing” deal in HP’s mind.

Cisco brings aboard former HP president

Cisco and HP may not see eye-to-eye in regards to the data center, but good talent is good talent. Cisco hired Michael Capellas, former HP president and former Compaq CEO, to head up the Cisco/EMC/VMware data center team in May. Capellas heads up the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) alliance the companies formed.

HP partners with Avaya

With Cisco no longer a partner, HP turned to Avaya to fill the gaps. Over at Cisco, the networking giant was strengthening its data center portfolio with new products for the next generation data center.

HP data centers give Cisco the boot

HP poured gas on a bonfire in September when it announced it had removed all Cisco switches and routers from its six data centers, replacing them with HP A-series routers and switches. Executives were taking shots at each other’s strategies, and it looks like the rivalry will indeed continue into 2011 (and beyond, perhaps).

Oracle vs. HP: Round one

As HP was fending off Cisco on one front, Oracle flanked the technology giant on another front by hiring HP’s former CEO Mark Hurd as president in September. Hurd resigned his position at HP in August after sexual harassment allegations created a scandal.

HP’s lawyers fire back at Oracle

HP wasn’t about to just sit by and watch as Oracle put its former CEO into an executive position. The company promptly responded to Oracle’s hiring of Hurd by filing a lawsuit that alleged Hurd couldn’t fulfill his duties as Oracle president without violating confidentiality agreements with HP. In response to the lawsuit, Oracle threatened to cut all ties with HP.

HP and Oracle bury the hatchet

Within a couple of weeks, the lawsuit had been settled, with reports indicating Hurd waived half of his separation compensation.

Dell continues data center assault on Cisco, HP, IBM and Oracle

Not to be left out of the 2010 data center drama, Dell rolled out new products and solutions specifically to compete with Cisco, HP, IBM and Oracle. With existing strength in the data center, Dell stated it was looking to “shatter the virtualization glass ceiling” with its new data center lineup.

The data center of 2011

According to Asaf Somekh, vice president of marketing at Voltaire, one of the biggest trends of 2010 was the string of vendor mergers and acquisitions to boost their data center plays. That’s a trend Somekh said he expects to see continue through 2011 as vendors build themselves into “mega-system” companies.

“This is going to be a very bloody war with lots of dollars spent on these M&As,” he said.

The changing industry will create new challenges for channel partners, who will find themselves pulled in different directions by the various vendors in the market, Somekh said. There will be efforts to lock partners into particular vendors with incentives.

“What goes together with those mega-companies will be vendor lock-in tactics that these vendors will be applying. That will require the channels to better understand the technologies that create this kind of lock-in,” Somekh said. Although he noted that the largest partners will be able to sustain multiple vendors, smaller ones will be pushed into picking a side.

This will likely mean fewer best of breed solutions and more vendor-specific solutions in the market, but it could be a change that only lasts a few years. Then the pendulum will likely start to swing the other way, Somekh said.

“I really think we’ll see lots of M&As that will really change the landscape,” Somekh said.