HP Challenges Cisco With Expanded FlexNetwork Architecture

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2011-10-10

HP Challenges Cisco With Expanded FlexNetwork Architecture

Hewlett-Packard officials are continuing to build the company's networking business as it looks to chip away at Cisco Systems' leading market share.

HP made itself into Cisco Systems' top competitor in the enterprise networking space when it bought rival 3Com last year, and made its most significant move in May with the rollout of its FlexNetwork architecture, designed to create a single networking platform that runs from the data center to the campus to remote workers.

Now HP is building out the FlexNetwork strategy with new products and services that are aimed at helping businesses deal with rapidly growing trends that are putting greater pressure on enterprise networks, including virtualized infrastructures, multimedia applications, the consumerization of IT and the migration to new platforms, such as 10 Gigabit Ethernet and IPv6.

The tech vendor introduced the new offerings Oct. 5 at the Interop New York show, a day after it announced that Bethany Mayer is the new senior vice president and general manager of the HP Networking unit, replacing Marius Haas, one of several executives who left HP after Leo Apotheker was named CEO late last year. Mayer had been interim head of HP Networking for the past several months.

Among the new offerings from HP are the 10GbE 5900 top-of-rack switch and updated 12500 switch series that officials said enhance server-to-server traffic by as much as 80 percent. The improved 12500 also doubles the scalability over the previous version and will improve virtual machine performance, according to Mike Nielsen, director of solutions marketing for HP Networking. It's also fully IPv6-ready.

HP also is offering its new HP FlexCampus solutions, a move that will continue HP's efforts to collapse the number of tiers in an enterprise's network and can lead to as much as 50 percent networking cost reductions, Nielsen said in an interview with eWEEK. Among the FlexCampus offerings are the new 3800 stackable switches, which offer up to 450 percent higher performance, and a new reference architecture for campuses that brings together wired and wireless networks.

In addition, HP grew its portfolio of FlexBranch offerings to include new virtualized service modules with technologies from virtualization vendors VMware and Citrix Systems. The offerings, which will help speed the delivery of applications to branch offices and cut costs by up to 21 percent, will appear later in the fourth quarter and in early 2012, Nielsen said.

HP also is offering integrated mobile network access control in its Intelligent Management Center 5.1 software, making it easier for enterprises to access mobile devices and protect the corporate network from threats from mobile devices.

This is important given the growing BYOD (bring your own devices) trend. The practice of businesses giving corporate-issued mobile devices to employees with which to access corporate applications and data is changing into one where employees are bringing in their own devices-particularly smartphones and tablets-and demanding network access. Such situations save enterprises money on upfront capital expenses, but puts pressure on IT staffs to figure out how to manage such devices and protect the corporate network.

Blame It on Cisco


Nielsen said there are "a confluence of different factors" that are hitting enterprise networks, which over the past several years have not kept up with the pace of innovation in the data center. HP and other networking vendors, such as Juniper Networks, Aruba Networks and Extreme Networks, place the blame for that on Cisco, and say they are legitimate alternatives to the market leader.

"HP's made networking interesting again," Mike Banic, vice president of global marketing with HP Networking and a former Juniper executive, said in an interview with eWEEK during the summer. "The market had been pretty stagnant in innovation and competition for about a decade now."

HP has seen success in its networking push. In the company's fiscal year 2011 third quarter, HP's networking revenues jumped 15 percent. That has come amidst a rocky period for HP in other businesses, including the possible spinoff of its PC business, a move that led one analyst to suggest that HP may consider doing the same with its commodity networking hardware unit.

However, HP executives have argued that the networking business is crucial to its efforts to become more of a data center solutions vendor, as it competes with the likes of IBM, Cisco and Dell. The new offerings suggest HP officials plan to continue investing in the networking hardware business.

Officials with HP and other networking vendors argued that Cisco is too expensive and too proprietary, and that they offer comparable or better products that are less expensive. The emergence of HP, Juniper and others as credible competitors to Cisco has fueled increasing pricing pressures. Analysts say the competition between the vendors will increase.

"We expect the battle for data center networks to intensify, as leading vendors aim their fabric strategies at creating simplified architectures," Matthew Ball, director of enterprise services at Canalys, said in a statement in June. "The battle for campus and branch-office environments, however, should not be ignored."

Cisco in recent quarters has seen revenues in its core switching business decline, with analysts saying that the vendor became distracted in its efforts to grow into new markets and made its networking business vulnerable to rivals. Cisco executives have noted the issues and are reorganizing the company, including re-energizing the networking business with an aggressive rollout of new products and services.

In addition, they've struck back at criticisms from HP, Juniper and others, arguing that their rivals are pushing a "good enough" networking message that focuses primarily on upfront equipment costs. In contrast, Cisco officials say their message is that the true way to measure the cost of networking is through total cost of ownership.

In a Webcast scheduled for Oct. 10, officials with Cisco and Xerox, a Cisco customer, will argue what they say are the real costs of building and managing networks based on Cisco and HP technologies. The Webcast can be accessed through Cisco's Website.


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