Wondering About HP Networking’s Dualism

At Network Computing, Greg Ferro writes an intriguing piece about HP Networking’s split personality.

After HP acquired 3Com (H3C), the conventional wisdom, with which I concurred, was that the ProCurve product line was living on borrowed time. I didn’t expect ProCurve to disappear overnight — there was an installed base of customers to take into account, after all — but I did think the development pendulum would swing overwhelmingly to China and the 3Com/H3C team.

To a large extent, that has happened, but the ProCurve product portfolio is proving surprisingly tenacious. As Ferro notes, HP’s E Series switches continue to sport ProCurve’s in-house ASICs and ProCurve software. Meanwhile, HP  Networking’s A Series switches feature merchant silicon and 3Com/H3C’s Comware network OS. Finally, HP has the S Series, which also sports merchant silicon.

HP’s Rationale

So, what’s with the continuing split in HP Networking’s product portfolio? In his article at Network Computing, Ferro quotes Dan Montesanto, an HP switch product manager, who asserts that custom ASICs “make a lot of sense in the ‘middle of the market,’” but apparently not as much sense at the low end or the high end of the market. You can read the rationalization over at Network Computing, and you can decide whether you buy it.

I must admit, I’m skeptical of the official reasoning. I don’t want to go all “conspiracy theory” on you — in fact, I don’t have a conspiracy theory to proffer on this matter — but I just question whether HP is giving us the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Something just doesn’t ring true about it. Yes, I note HP’s claims that it can make cheaper and better chips than merchant-silicon purveyors for certain product price points in the market. Perhaps those claims are true. I can’t disprove them.

Still, why continue to offer the different network operating systems? Wouldn’t it make sense to run the same software across all HP’s switches? Silicon issues notwithstanding, why wouldn’t HP unify its networking portfolio under Comware?

Market Expects Comware Migration

The market thinks that will happen eventually. Ferro writes:

 “One thing seems clear: HP Networking hasn’t convinced the wider market that both Comware and ProCurve operating systems are necessary, and most network architects expect HP to migrate its product line to Comware.”

Again, I’m not trying to sell you an extraterrestrial in the desert or persuade you that I saw Elvis outside a Burger King, but I wonder what’s happening behind the scenes at HP. It’s almost as if HP Networking is keeping the ProCurve ASICs and software going as an insurance policy.

But, if that’s true, why?

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2 responses to “Wondering About HP Networking’s Dualism

  1. Well, I don’t know it’s an insurance policy but you can be sure there are engineers and product managers in the bowels of Mountain View who are doing their darndest to keep (their) American jobs alive.

    If they are numerate, which is likely, they’ve done their sums and are presenting to the likes of Montesanto an internal justification … which in this case seems to be that it’s cheaper to do your own mid-market ASICs.

    Separately (but maybe related to this?) I cant help thinking the WHOLE Networking (ie ProCurve + 3Com) push is falling way short of where it should be for HP. Sure, they’ve contributed to Cisco having to slash prices; but are they gaining serious market share? 30%? 20%? of the Enterprise mid-market world-wide? – these figures would be justified by having a me-too Cisco product and OS at half the price. But I don’t see it.

    Whadda you think mate – 15%? 10%?

    • Thanks for the comment.

      In reply to your question, Dell’Oro’s latest market research showed HP in the pole position in smart managed switches with 34% market share in the first quarter of 2011. In the overall market for L2/L3 Ethernet switches, HP held second place behind Cisco with 12% market share (based on revenue). That was up from 9.5% in the year-ago quarter. So, they’re gaining some ground, but the shift hasn’t been dramatic and Cisco is still the clear market leader.

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