Cisco has plugged a key emission in its ambitious data centre strategy vision, namely storage, after the networking giant signed a partnership deal with NetApp.

The companies said they will jointly develop and support what they're calling a "unified storage architecture" consisting of the NetApp product roster, including the SnapManager suite for application integration, Ethernet storage technologies, and storage efficiency features.

While NetApp was not one of Cisco's initial Unified Computing System (UCS) partners when it announced its ambitious data centre strategy in March, Cisco's analysts at the time speculated that NetApp, and other storage providers, including Dell, EMC, and Emulex, might join the tribe in the near future. And as of Thursday, NetApp has done just that.

"From the broad perspective of Unified Computing, storage is one part of the overall fabric that needs to be in place to run an application," says Julie Craig, a research director at IT analyst firm Enterprise Management Associates (EMA).

Oddly enough, a spokeswoman said that neither Cisco nor NetApp officials were available to comment on the partnership until Friday, the day following the announcement. But a prepared statement explained that pulling the NetApp products into the Cisco Unified Computing System has the potential to "drive down raw storage requirements, improve utilisation in virtualised environments, and simplify administrative tasks."

That's in line with the message Cisco has been spreading about UCS since the original announcement, when CEO John Chambers described the vision as "the future of the data centre." UCS, Cisco said, will enable customers to create next-generation data centres optimised for virtualised applications, networking, servers, and storage. Chambers predicted that such data centres "will evolve into clouds and change business models forever."

Indeed, other vendors are embarking on similar journeys. Cisco rival Juniper earlier this year detailed Project Stratus, its effort to unite data centre management, storage, compute, layer 4-7 switching, and networking resources. Juniper also teamed up with IBM on cloud management technologies. Hewlett-Packard, for its part, is building more and more capabilities into its ProCurve networking products. And Brocade and Dell downplayed Cisco's UCS, warning that it might lock customers into Cisco's technology.

But that doesn't mean those rivals won't join Cisco's UCS ecosystem, particularly as it continues to branch out to more storage providers.

"It is likely that other vendors will be lining up to partner with Cisco in the storage area," EMA's Craig said. "I wouldn't be surprised if others were added to the UCS network at some point in time."