Hey EMC ( EMC), it seems Cisco ( CSCO) just isn't that in to you. As merger speculation heated up last week, EMC was often named as a big potential takeover candidate and fix for any company looking to join the new game in IT networking. But as the dust settles, EMC is looking increasingly like a stand-alone. The excitement started March 16 with Cisco's partnership-powered attack on Hewlett-Packard's ( HPQ) and IBM's ( IBM) server businesses. This move may have sparked the still-unconfirmed merger discussions between IBM and Sun Micro ( JAVA). Networking specialist EMC once was the answer to the question of how a big IT gear supplier could gain a prime spot in the data storage market. But EMC's days as a buyout target may have since passed. Apparently, Cisco got very close to a deal with EMC a year and a half ago. Then it walked away. "They almost pulled the trigger 18 months ago," says a former Cisco executive. "But both sides had different notions of the integration task and the management structure." EMC, and its spinoff virtualization business, VMware, were among the players named in Cisco's somewhat vaporous server partnership initiative. The idea that HP would swoop in for a try at EMC doesn't quite stand up, says Telecom Pragmatics analyst David Gross. "HP already has its own storage products," says Gross. "EMC can continue to do what it's doing as an independent storage company." Meanwhile, says Gross, VMware, which has software used by nearly every major company, could be seen as a more attractive buyout option. Maybe that's a rumor for another day.