Daily Archives: March 8, 2010

Brocade’s McHugh Takes Aim at HP ProCurve and Cisco

Formerly a senior executive at HP ProCurve, John McHugh found himself at Nortel Networks, trying vainly to breathe life into the doomed company’s chronically neglected Enterprise Data Solutions (data networking) division.

As he told NetworkWorld last summer, McHugh dreamed of hauling the desiccated husk of Bay Networks from the Nortel mausoleum and bringing it back to life, like a long-disbanded, superannuated rock band pursuing a reunion tour.

Said McHugh, then vice president and general manager of Nortel Enterprise Data Solutions:

“The more independently I can run this business and take it back to its roots and make Bay Networks exist again, the more effective and focused we are going to be. I would like Nortel to reincarnate Bay Networks.”

That quixotic dream went unrealized, but McHugh hasn’t finished tilting at windmills. He’s now at Brocade Communications, where he serves as vice president and chief marketing officer, reporting directly to CEO Michael Klayko.

Encouraged by Brocade’s acquisition of Foundry Networks, and its partner-friendly approach to the data center, McHugh told Channel Insider that he believes his current employer is well placed to repel what he terms the monolithic, proprietary data-center architectures offered by Cisco and HP.

Actually, McHugh is at least as critical of HP, his former employer, as he is of Cisco. Speaking on what he perceives as HP’s weakness, McHugh did not mince words in passing judgment on HP’s 3Com acquisition:

“During my time at HP I pushed hard on moving up on the credibility side to make it less of a commodity play at the low end and to make it more strategic and enterprise class. The [3Com] acquisition celebrated the old roots. HP found the one company that is barely in the enterprise space, and that is even lower priced and more value oriented. I was surprised they went and spent so many dollars on products that are about the lowest price per port… It was a bottom-feeding move.”

But wasn’t that the point of the entire exercise?

As noted previously, I think HP’s aim in buying 3Com was to get low-cost engineering talent that could deliver low-priced, reasonable-quality networking gear. The goal was to leverage cost-effective Chinese networking engineers to commoditize as much of the network as possible, thereby putting price and margin pressure on Cisco and transferring relative value to software and services, areas where HP believes it can maintain competitive advantage over the networking giant in the data center.

If you had a scale with technology innovation at one end and technology commoditization at the other, you’d have to say HP has been gravitating toward the latter for some time, for at least as long as Mark Hurd has been in the big chair. I’m surprised McHugh didn’t see the signs.

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Cisco’s Quiet Exit from WiMAX RAN Business

Cisco apparently has decided to leave the WiMAX radio-access networks (RAN) market. Many observers question why the company got into the space in the first place.

Cisco entered the WiMAX RAN business with its $330 million acquisition of Navini Networks in 2007. It was considered an odd move, because Cisco traditionally had focused on the IP networks for wireless operators rather than on radio base stations.

Evidently Cisco has decided to revisit its former strategy. In an email message to FierceBroadbandWireless, Cisco spokeswoman Jennifer Buchhalter wrote the following:

“After careful review, our mobility strategy is to focus on providing a radio-agnostic IP end-to-end mobile multimedia services network. Cisco will continue to focus on the packet core and to also focus on investment in radio technologies such as femtocells and WiFi. As part of this decision, we have decided to discontinue designing and building new WiMAX base stations. We believe the best way for Cisco to serve our customers is by delivering value at the edge and the core of our customers’ networks.”

Well, yes, that makes sense; but, again, it makes one wonder why CIsco pursued the digressive strategy that saw it acquire Navini for more than chicken feed back in 2007.

Was it just to jumpstart 4G RAN adoption, which now will be taken forward by LTE rather than WiMAX deployments? Cisco benefits from sales of IP cores that support 4G networks, and it’s conceivable that Cisco thought the market needed a push. (Intel has a well-established pattern of serving as a catalyst in nascent technology segments that it sees as integral to the sales growth of its own products, and Cisco is not averse to taking a similar tack.)

Nonetheless, it’s interesting that the Cisco spokesman doesn’t specifically address LTE. One might reasonably assume that Cisco has no need to get into turf wars with well-established LTE RAN vendors. It wouldn’t play to Cisco’s strengths, and that market doesn’t seem to need any pump priming.

Moving IP-based content, including video, across wireless operators’ networks should be enough for the data-networking colossus.