Cisco will turn the tables on erstwhile partners on Monday when it announces details of what is expected to be a line of systems that fuse switching and traditional server capabilities.

In what has become the worst-kept secret in Silicon Valley, Cisco's 'Unified Computing' launch will see the networking leader attempt to cross the chasm and compete with the likes of HP, IBM, Dell and Sun through the release of Intel Xeon-based server blades optimised for virtualisation and storage.

Details remain sketchy but it is widely anticipated that the move will transform the ICT playing field, blurring the lines between communications and data processing, and offering a new blueprint for the corporate datacentre.

The industry has been awash with rumours ever since a January blog posting where Cisco's Padmasree Warrior wrote:

"Cisco is innovating around an architectural approach we call 'Unified Computing' ... the advancement toward the next generation data center that links all resources together in a common architecture to reduce the barrier to entry for datacentre virtualisation. In other words, the compute and storage platform is architecturally 'unified' with the network and the virtualization platform."

Some watchers say that aggressive moves onto its turf through HP's ProCurve networking group, Microsoft's Office Communications Server and others have forced Cisco to change tack.

"This is part of [Cisco CEO] John Chambers' theme, which is that computing resources are not going to be in fixed places anymore," said Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney.

"They're going to break apart and in the datacentre you'll need very fast networking, which is [the mainstay of] Cisco."

However, even without seeing the detail of the announcement, it's clear that there's no guarantee Cisco will succeed as it is yet to be proven that the company can develop the necessary channels, brand or culture for the server sector. Previous attempts at mixing networking with servers -- for example, through AT&T's 1991 purchase of NCR or IBM's mid-1980s capture of Rolm -- have generally met with disappointment.

"Cisco has taken bigger risks this year than ever before and Chambers will either look like a hero or... well, a non-hero," said Gartner's Dulaney.

Still, the move will provide ICT shops with another giant to sharpen the pencils of server veterans and there could yet be another seismic shift in the industry with many observers suggesting Cisco could yet acquire storage giant and VMware owner EMC.