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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