HP sets sights on Cisco in battle for networking hearts and minds

LAS VEGAS – It was nearly an hour into the opening keynotes at the Americas Partner Conference on Monday until a Hewlett Packard (Nasdaq: HPQ) executive finally used the C-word: Cisco. But the one-time networking partner was certainty front of mind though as HP re-affirmed its commitment to become the leader in every business segment it competes in – including networking.

The one-time close business partners finally parted ways in February, when Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO) dropped HP from its partner program because of their increasing competition as both vendors moved deeper into the data centre. HP’s expansion of its ProCurve networking portfolio, and its recently completed acquisition of networking equipment vendor 3Com have seen the vendor take direct aim at Cisco’s market. And with moves such as its Unified Computing System (UCS) and its expanding data centre vision, Cisco has also been moving into HP’s bread and butter.

The two companies are even holding competing partner conferences this week – HP in Las Vegas and Cisco in San Francisco – although HP spokespeople say the scheduling wasn’t intentional.As the conference began though the gauntlet was thrown down early by Stephen DeWitt, senior vice-president and general manager, Americas region, personal systems group, who alluded to Cisco along with SMB competitors such as Dell when he dismissed their ability to compete with the breadth of HP, a theme speakers often returned to.

“Right now our competition in a number of markets is telling their partners how to take us down. How they can do better, than they can match HP’s portfolio, our global reach, our partners,” said DeWitt. “I don’t buy it. I don’t believe it. But we’re going to fight every day to prove it. Of all the expectations we have of our partners, it’s to jump into that fight with us.”

The name Cisco was finally uttered by Ann Livermore, executive vice-president of HP’ enterprise business, declaring with 3Com’s product portfolio behind it HP is ready to take on Cisco and to win. Laying out a vision of a next generation data centre to Cisco’s – a convergence of once separate silos in storage, servers, networking, power and cooling and management software – Livermore said today clients are working on virtualizing those environments to scale up and down to meet demand and, with its breadth, HP is uniquely positioned to lead in all those areas.

“Networking is critical and our commitment is this is an industry we believe needs to be transformed, and can be transformed with the strength of HP and its partners, and we’ll go up against any competitor,” she said.

While HP has been in networking for 25 years, she admitted ProCurve wasn’t a priority. HP sold around the edge of the network, and the business was managed internally under “other.” With 3Com under its wing though, HP is eyeing a $40 billion market opportunity.

“Now we have the complete portfolio from the edge of the network to the core of the data centre,” said Livermore. “We have a single operating and management system through the portfolio, and that’s a huge advantage over what customers have to deal with from Cisco.”

Promising HP can beat Cisco on management, performance and price, Livermore said HP will be investing heavily getting partners trained-up and ramped-up to bring the new portfolio to market, promising tremendous revenue and margin enhancement opportunity.

While the TippingPoint brand will remain, the ProCurve and 3Com brands will be folded into a new go-to-market moniker, HP Networking. Dave Frederickson, vice-president, enterprise servers and storage with HP Canada, said the integration is proceeding rapidly. The 3Com partner program is being ported into the HP Networking program, formerly ProCurve, under PartnerOne.

As of June 1st, selling methods will be ported to HP. The product lists and ordering are being merged, an support is being put in place.

With what he calls the strongest portfolio in the industry to deliver against a truly converged infrastructure, Frederickson said customer interest is strong.

“It’s been very much a one-horse show for the most part,” said Frederickson. “Competition is a healthy thing for customers. This isn’t just an acquisition, it’s changing the game.”

James Alexander, senior vice-president with the London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group, said he thinks HP will get the integrated stack to market sooner than many think as it’s highly motivated to compete with Cisco.

“HP is in a much stronger position in many ways integrating the 3Com portfolio, along with some of the other work they’ve done, and I think they’re going to do it sooner rather than later. They’ve already announced how the product lines are going to fit together,” said Alexander. “As HP strengthens itself in networking and Cisco strengthens itself on the data side its good news for partners and its good news for customers.”

Competition is also coming to the partner level. John Cammalleri, vice-president of the solution partners organization with HP Canada, said HP’s partners know there’s a battle going on but his focus less on what Cisco may be saying or doing, and more on articulating HP’s value proposition around networking.

However, Cammalleri said if he gets the word to compete hard for partners with Cisco, he’ll be ready to wage that battle.

“At this point in time that mandate hasn’t come to me and I’ve not been asked to have our partners choose anything at this point in time. I’m still learning what our go-forward strategy is going to be around our partnering when it comes to competing with Cisco. When that time comes and when I get those orders, I’m going to execute against those orders,” said Cammalleri. “So if it needs to get a little bit harsh, we’ll have to do that.”

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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