Major League Baseball has Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez — intensely competitive players who were close friends until one of them dissed the other in the media. And as luck (also known as a shipload of Steinbucks) would have it, the two ended up on the same team, the New York Yankees. So for the sake of appearance they get along.
That same story is playing out in the technology industry, where Cisco Systems (s CSCO) and IBM (s IBM) and are locked in a battle royale. The two enterprise giants are competing with each other thanks to Cisco’s decision to enter the server business, one from which IBM makes billions of dollars.
IBM has responded by getting closer to companies that give Cisco a run for its money. IBM announced today a pretty tight relationship with Juniper Networks (s JNPR), which according to some estimates will add about $400 million to the router maker’s business. Earlier, Big Blue teamed up with another Cisco competitor, Brocade Communications. (s BRCD). UBS Research in a note to its clients pointed out that:
We believe IBM is hedging its position against a more aggressive Cisco. The company now has Networking OEM relationships with both Juniper and Brocade, while it still maintains a reselling agreement with Cisco. In our view, IBM is expanding all of its options.
UBS is being polite. The fact is that this battle is only going to get ugly. With Hewlett-Packard (s HPQ) and IBM on the offensive, Cisco is going to find itself in a very cold place. A surefire sign of impending ugliness is when companies try to spin us. In this case we’ve gotten emails from Cisco’s press people with links to press releases and blog posts on the company’s web site explaining how Cisco and IBM are working closely together.
This diplomatic spin reminds me of Derek Jeter and A-Rod’s relationship. In 1997, DJ admitted to being “Alex’s biggest fan.” Ten years later, A-Rod said, “People start assuming that things are a lot worse than what they are, which they’re not. But they’re obviously not as great as they used to be. We were like blood brothers.”
The kids have a word for those in these types of relationships: frenemies.
PS: The big question is, who is A-Rod and who is DJ? Grrrr…life and its complicated queries!