At a time when Cisco Systems has aggressively reduced its face-to-face event spending and travel budget, the networking giant has signed on to become a visionary sponsor for the Red Hat Summit (Sept. 1-4, Chicago). And Cisco isn't alone. IBM, Dell and Hewlett-Packard are also getting cozy with Red Hat at the summit. Here's why.

First, consider the situation at Cisco Systems. During Cisco Partner Summit 2009, CEO John Chambers noted that Cisco’s own travel budget has fallen from $780 million down to $230 million. As the economy improvess Cisco's travel budget will rise again to a sustained level at $350 million. But it won’t grow from there. The reason: Online collaboration and telepresence (high-end video conferencing).

Still, Cisco has signed on as a visionary sponsor for Red Hat Summit. And Mark Fulgham, VP of Cisco's Data Center Emerging Technologies Central Marketing Organization, will give a keynote at the event.

Unified Computing and Open Source

Ahhh. Now the picture is getting clearer. As you'll recall, Cisco's Unified Computing System strategy, launched in early 2009,  includes a server push against Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Dell. Red Hat is a critical partner in that effort, since more and more data centers running Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

At the same time, Cisco is trying to learn how to compete and cooperate with open source. Consider the competitive landscape:
Heck, The VAR Guy isn't predicting open source will undermine Cisco anytime soon. But much in the way that Linux required about a decade to chip away at Microsoft Windows, Cisco needs to closely monitor how Asterisk and other emerging open source technologies will potentially impact the traditional networking market.

Red Hat Summit: Showdown Time

The topic of this blog entry, however, is Cisco's Unified Computing System. Cisco will be busy evangelizing the UCS effort to Red Hat partners and customers at the Red Hat Summit in September. Not by coincidence, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Dell will also be on hand promoting their own visions at the event.

For at least a few days -- at its own conference -- Red Hat will be seated at the center of the server universe.

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