Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) is never boring. Just when you think you have the networking giant all figured out, it does something completely unexpected. This time, I'm not so sure that's a good thing.

The latest twist on Cisco's story is a "unified computing system" (UCS) that basically puts serious server hardware inside a high-end network switch, with everything tuned to slice virtual machines out of the whole package. Marrying network gear to the computing resources that need it sounds like it makes sense, but Cisco is playing a risky game here.

The product comes with glowing endorsements from industry leaders in almost every corner of the data center: VMware (NYSE:VMW) is helping with virtualization, EMC (NYSE:EMC) with storage solutions, and both Red Hat and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) are eager to provide platform support. Meanwhile, Accenture (NYSE:ACN) is standing by with consulting and tech-support services.

Sounds like a complete package, right? Broad-line industry support across traditional rivalry lines, and everyone is happy?

Well, no. The UCS will compete directly with offerings from other server makers such as Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) and IBM (NYSE:IBM). That class of companies is entirely absent from Cisco's press releases, and I'd imagine that Big Blue and HP are feeling a bit miffed at Cisco for making a land grab in their stronghold markets.

That wouldn't be so bad if the likes of HP and IBM weren't also big resellers of Cisco equipment. It's common practice to buy a gaggle of IBM servers already bundled with the Cisco switches and routers you need to fit the new hardware into your IT infrastructure. Cisco might be poking itself in the eye here. Only time will tell whether the goodwill lost between Cisco and some of its reselling partners outweighs the revenue from the new product lines.

Watching Cisco jump into consumer electronics and home networking was fine. Those were low-risk plays where Cisco didn't butt heads with any of its major partners. This time, the stakes are much higher, and I'm getting nervous. This stock is off my watch list until I see how the server guys react.

More risky business:

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.