HP Networking – One Year Later

Posing with the Elvii at HP Discover 2011 in Las Vegas.

Last year, HP sent me to Interop. The Las Vegas show and the New York City show. I received a fair amount of access to HP Networking engineers and executives. This year, they sent me to the Interop show in Las Vegas again. For all the shows HP has sent me to, and all the access they have given me to their people, I will be forever grateful. I’m just a regular IT guy from the Nashville,TN area who happens to do a little writing on the side. Being able to interact with some very bright people from a vendor as large as HP has been a wonderful experience.

Having said all of that(and I meant every word), I wanted to give my impressions of HP Networking from over a year’s worth of interacting with them. Realistically, attempting to write an article that summarizes all of HP Networking would be tough to do. The last time I tried it, it took 3 posts. See here, here, and here for those posts. That didn’t include all of HP Networking either.

If you follow the networking industry, you know about the Cisco/HP rivalry. In case you aren’t familiar with it, I submit the following short history lesson:

In the spring of 2009, Cisco announced UCS. Eight months later, HP announced the acquisition of 3Com. War was declared, even if nobody ever issued a formal declaration. Here we are three years later, and things have certainly changed. The Cisco UCS line has been refreshed a few times and continues to grab market share from IBM, HP, and others. HP has a much broader product set from a networking perspective and can offer the entire solution set from storage to compute to networking. The few things they don’t do that Cisco does is handled through their Alliance One partnership.

Last Year’s Perception

Rather then give you a gigantic post to read, let me break down the big things that were noted last year in discussions myself, and others had with HP. Here’s a semi-logical grouping of them:

1. Branding – There needs to be a lot less H3C and 3Com logos and a lot more HP logos. The longer you continue to carry old logos on documentation and hardware, the less it looks like an integration has taken place.

2. Message – We get it. You’re not Cisco. I don’t expect you to be exactly like them. Mentioning them constantly can have the effect of making HP look like the whiny child stomping up and down begging someone to pay attention to them. Nobody likes whiny kids.

3. Product Line Reduction – There are way too many switching platforms from HP, and they realize that. At the Interop NYC show in October of 2011, HP stated that they were going to get rid of the A and E designators. “A” meaning 3Com/H3C platforms, and “E” was for ProCurve platforms. They also indicated that they would work on simplifying the product line.  Additionally, the wireless side needs some reduction as well.

4. Ecosystem – If you are trying to woo people from Cisco, you need to have some sort of an ecosystem that people are comfortable with. This would include a robust support site with forums, design guides, painless process to open support tickets, and books. Lots of books.

5. Technology – Give people a reason to walk away from Cisco and other vendors. If all you are offering is the same, then why would I switch? Cost will only get you so far. There is a bit too much secrecy around how everything on the data center side works. You’ll probably get more sales if people understand what it is that they are buying.

6. Focus – Learn from the failures at competitors and stick with what you know. If you are a hardware company, then develop hardware. Make sure every executive you hire understands where the company focus is and should be.

This Year’s Perception

After a year, how have things changed in my opinion?

1. Branding – I didn’t see anything but HP logos in the HP booth on the Interop Las Vegas expo floor. It was much better than last year’s Vegas booth. Additionally, with the new switches that have come out in the past year, there is no longer any “A” series or “E” series. Everything just has a numerical designator for the switch model.

2. Message – I barely heard Cisco’s name mentioned except in technical discussions revolving around particular platforms. As the market share leader in networking, HP is acutely aware of Cisco. However, in my discussions with HP employees at Interop, it was less of a big deal compared to last year. I think a lot of that has to do with the dust settling on the 3Com acquisition. A lot of the technology that 3Com developed is already a part of the HP solution set.

3. Product Line Reduction – So how has HP done to reduce switch sprawl? According to this URL: http://web.archive.org/web/20110615124934/http://h17007.www1.hp.com/us/en/products/switches/index.aspx, HP had 48 different switch models in mid-June of 2011. Compare that to today at this URL: http://h17007.www1.hp.com/us/en/products/switches/index.aspx. If you look under the “Full Switch Portfolio” tab, there are 57 different series of switches. 57!

I realize that some of these switch series could be grouped together, but you would still have around 50 different series if you did that. My gut tells me this needs to be chopped down to about 20 different series, and even that might be pushing it. Cisco is bad about this too, so it’s not just HP that has a product sprawl problem. As for the wireless side, I did manage to speak with HP about this. They are reducing all wireless down to 1 line of products from the 3 that exist today.

4. Ecosystem – At the end of 2011, HP released a few HP branded books centered around their HP Expert One certification program. You can see the full list of books here. They have added several titles to the lineup since the initial 2 books were launched last year. In addition to books, there are several training courses available from HP Networking on switching, wireless, and even IMC.

As for the design and deployment guides, these are still lacking. I have found plenty of documentation centered around specific platforms and how to configure them, but in my quest to find overall design guides, I came up short. There are generic FlexCampus, FlexFabric, and FlexNetworking design guides, but that’s about it. I would expect to see a design guide just for mobility, but it looks like that is just a few pages in one of the generic “Flex” design guides. I also would expect dedicated design guides for security and other specialized areas. Unless I am navigating the HP web site incorrectly, I don’t see them.

5. Technology – HP has a lot of good technology. I was pleased to see that their HP Discover conference in Las Vegas in June, featured some deep dives on technology like IRF and certain switching platforms. Cisco sets the standard with architecture education, as anyone who has ever sat through or listened to a 2 hour session at a Cisco Live conference can tell you. They tell you almost everything about how their products work. HP should do the same.

6. Focus – While I cannot say that across the entire company there is focus, I will say that within the networking division, HP is doing something right. By allowing the AllianceOne program to exist, HP is saying that they can’t make everything. They are ceding certain areas of networking to other companies. Riverbed is their main WAN optimization vendor, F5 is their main load balancer vendor, etc. This is a smart move in my opinion. The one area I am still unclear about is what they are going to do on the firewall side. They have firewalls, but you almost never hear them mentioned.

Closing Thoughts

I’m happy to see HP Networking get better. Whether it is in the campus network or the data center, they have a wide range of products to fit almost every need. For the things they cannot do, they rely on third party vendors to fill that gap.

For all the problems that HP has had recently(real or perceived), none of them really centered around their particular hardware platforms, from the networking perspective. They are facing ecosystem battles and the higher level executive issues. The HP ecosystem is much better off today than it was a year ago. As for the executive issues, those appear to be settling down now that Meg Whitman has been CEO for almost a year now.

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