Hewlett-Packard

(HPQ) - Get Report

has beefed up its data center networking story by teaming with a slew of companies, including

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

,

Riverbed

(RVBD)

, and

McAfee

(MFE)

, in an attempt to combat the tough economy.

Seen as one of the few tech companies successfully

withstanding

the current financial storm, H-P is now focusing its attention on data center networks. By partnering with some of the sector's biggest names, the tech giant hopes to boost its networking profile and force open customers' wallets.

Key to this effort is a blade for H-P's 5400zl and 8400zl switches, unveiled Monday, that will consolidate various applications onto a single piece of hardware. These include security software from McAfee and Microsoft and WAN optimization software from Riverbed, which aims to boost the efficiency of network links. H-P has also clinched deals with application delivery specialist

F5 Networks

(FFIV) - Get Report

and telecom company

Avaya

, according to Mark Thompson, H-P's worldwide director of enterprise sales strategy.

"The partners that we're working with will have a version of their software that works on the blade," he said. "Some are in early April, some are in the second half

of 2009."

Thompson explained that boiling software from different companies into a single blade removes the need for users to deploy a number of different devices.

"It has the advantage of being more integrated into the network fabric," he adds. "It gives fewer boxes and less cabling."

H-P is also planning to offer virtualization software, which lets users run multiple operating systems simultaneously on a single computer, within its switch blade. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based firm, however, is not the only company opening up its network offerings at the moment.

Networking giant

Cisco

(CSCO) - Get Report

, which is wrestling with

tight

enterprise and service provider budgets, is

rumored

to have built a server computer equipped with sophisticated

virtualization software

from

VMware

(VMW) - Get Report

.

"Certainly, Cisco is moving in this direction," said Jon Oltsik, principal analyst at technology research firm

Enterprise Strategy Group

, explaining that the firm has already opened up its Integrated Services Router (ISR) to third-party software companies.

At least one H-P customer told

TheStreet.com

that he likes the idea of a switch blade capable of running specialized software from other companies.

"If it reduces the possibility of downtime, and increases the expectancy of getting up and running, then we would be interested," said Lane Mendelsohn, publisher of Wesley Chapel, Fla.-based financial social networking site

TraderPlanet.com

.

TraderPlanet already uses H-P blade servers as its company's IT backbone, and Mendelsohn explained that he is always keen to reduce the number of "moving parts" in his data center. "There's less room for incompatibilities if you're getting the hardware and the software from one vendor - it reduces the chance of a problem occurring."

H-P also unveiled a new family of switches Monday, which have been specifically designed to fit into data center racks, according to Thompson.

"We had products that offered that

networking capability before, but they were optimized for the wiring closet," he said.

The 6600 family of switches fit into the top of data center racks and H-P has also developed a new piece of software called Data Center Connections Manager, which it claims can quickly link the switches into an existing server infrastructure.

"It lets the network team and the server team have an automated way of configuring network connections -- it's about speeding the deployment process," said Thompson.

H-P shares slipped 11 cents, or 0.31%, to $35.68 Monday, despite the broader advance in tech stocks which saw the Nasdaq rise 1.23%.