Cisco Systems' ( CSCO) plans to break into the server market finally became flesh Monday as the networking firm unveiled new hardware and a slew of partnerships with the likes of Microsoft ( MSFT), EMC ( EMC), VMware ( VMW) and BMC ( EMC).

Cisco's blade server-driven strategy has been one of the tech sector's worst-kept secrets of the last few months, although opening up new revenue streams is crucial to Cisco's future performance.

Initially code-named "California Server," Cisco unveiled its "Unified Computing System" (UCS) at a bizarre tele-presence meeting where the company's executives mingled "virtually" with analysts and journalists at 11 cities around the world.

"With this, you're talking about 25% of the data center spend becoming available to Cisco in a way that it wasn't before," said Cisco CEO John Chambers, speaking from San Jose, Calif.

The firm barely mentioned blade servers during a presentation that lasted almost two hours, although it confirmed that Intel's processors feature in the UCS' B-Series blade.

Rather than focus specifically on blades, Cisco is touting the rackable UCS system as a pre-configured hardware base for VMware's virtualization technology. The technology also offers links to EMC storage and server management software from BMC, it said.

"You can't think of this as a blade," said Rob Lloyd, who runs Cisco's U.S., Canadian, and Japanese operations. "It's a system -- it will be shipped as a system."

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