HP core LAN switch signals rise of ProCurve

ProCurve division set to further gain on Cisco with an enterprise core switch

HP isn't yet a household name in enterprise LANs but is poised to extend its gains against leader Cisco Systems with a new core switch and coordination with HP's consulting arm.

The company's ProCurve networking division has made steady progress in small and medium-size enterprises over the past few years and last year started targeting Fortune 100 enterprises. That move has already paid off, according to US-based market research company Dell'Oro Group, which said ProCurve beat Nortel Networks to become the second-biggest enterprise Ethernet switch vendor in the second quarter, with 5.5 percent of worldwide revenue. Cisco led with 71.3 percent.

On Monday, the company unveiled the ProCurve Switch 8212zl, which completes its lineup of products from the core to the edge of the LAN, according to Wenceslao Lada, vice president and general manager of ProCurve. The 8212zl is based on HP's ProVision network chip technology.

It also introduced the Wireless Edge Services zl Module, a hardware module for the new switch and the 5400zl Series Intelligent Edge switches. That blade could be the first of many such products with a range of added capabilities, such as VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol), Lada said.

ProCurve has gained converts partly through competitive pricing and partly by appealing to enterprises that want relatively basic features in their LANs, analysts said. While Cisco pitches expanded network tools such as NAC (Network Admission Control) and deep packet inspection functions, most enterprises don't really want those things, said Burton Group analyst David Passmore.

But another advantage the division has is its name, which can make ProCurve's gear an easier sell to top executives who hold the purse strings, he added. Other Cisco rivals such as Foundry Networks Inc. aren't exactly startups but don't give the same assurance of longevity, he said.

"There are an awful lot of customers who are looking for an alternative to Cisco and yet want to buy from a big name," Passmore said.

ProCurve is run as an independent business within HP. But the company has started using its corporate tie more actively, turning to the HP Services consulting business for referrals to customers that want network help, ProCurve's Lada said.

Lada pointed to two other factors he said give ProCurve an edge: It offers a lifetime warranty on products all the way from the core to the edge, including the new switch. Many common parts among a range of ProCurve products, and the same operating system across the board, also make management easier and less expensive, he said. Cisco has different versions of its IOS (Internetwork Operating System) for different devices.

Going up against Cisco's multiprotocol routing expertise, HP partners with Foundry for the technology in the ProCurve 9300 core switch, Lada said. That relationship continues because the 9300 offers more routing capabilities, and HP will keep selling and supporting that product, he said.

The company's sales still come about 75 percent from small and medium-sized customers, with 25 percent larger enterprises, according to Lada.

"ProCurve was predominantly an SMB play, but they have been expanding upward," said Dell'Oro analyst Alan Weckel. He thinks the company has broken away from the pack of also-rans.

Its Ethernet switch revenue in the second quarter was nearly US$240 million, up from just about US$140 million a year earlier, according to Dell'Oro. Number-three Nortel, still recovering from years of financial restatements and reorganisation, came in with about US$150 million in this year's second quarter. Cisco, meanwhile, had more than US$3.1 million in Ethernet switch revenue in the quarter.

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