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5 priorities for HP in data center switching

3Com buy hasn't materialized in top-of-rack presence, or non-Chinese cores

By , Network World
September 19, 2011 06:09 AM ET

Network World - HP and Cisco are currently embroiled in a war of words, market share and revenue in Ethernet switching overall, but can HP really put up much of a fight in the data center?

The data center is where virtually all of the action in switching is right now. And HP is a leading vendor of data center blade switches. But the company appears to be treading water in high-density 10 Gigabit top-of-rack switches and in the data center core.

As rivals like Cisco, Brocade and Juniper unleash more 10G switches to address top-of-rack and core requirements, HP is conspicuously quiet even after spending $2.7 billion in 2009 to acquire 3Com. A big reason for buying 3Com, according to HP, was its data center switching portfolio -- chiefly, the A12500 core switch and the A5820 top-of-rack device. HP also offers the A7500 and A9500 for data center aggregation and smaller cores.

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HP has been largely silent about the A12500's progress and that of the A5820 since the 3Com acquisition. HP did unveil a four-port Fibre-Channel-over-Ethernet module for the A5820 last year, and claims its A12500 is a leading platform in data centers in China; but beyond that, the company has largely been missing in action while its competitors broaden their data center switching arsenals with new, high-density fixed and modular 10G platforms.

By contrast, in blade switching HP is the leader with its flagship product, the 6120. That indicates the entrenched server side of HP is driving its data center networking and computing sales, even after the acquisition of 3Com, which closed 17 months ago. HP clearly has at least one significant gap to fill and some branching out of China to do, analysts say.

"HP has a few product gaps and probably hasn't met its sales objectives with the 3Com products," says Jon Oltsik of Enterprise Strategy Group. "I'm also hearing that success has really been limited in APAC/China."

Going forward, HP should have five priorities in data center switching:

• Address the top-of-rack.

• Expand its core switch to markets beyond China.

• Leverage its server and blade switch success to increase penetration of its fixed and modular data center switches.

• Further unify management across its applications and infrastructure to stimulate adoption of its FlexFabric architecture for flattening, consolidating and converging data center networks and resources.

• Continue to increase the densities and feature sets of all of its data center switches.

HP says it's a serious contender now and will be even more so in data center switching when it addresses priority No. 1 in the first quarter of 2012 with a new line of top-of-rack switches.

"We are the market leader in the data center, period, in servers," says Bethany Mayer, acting head of HP Networking. "So we have a beachhead as strong as Cisco's, and I think even stronger, and combining our switching technologies together with that ... is really what we're trying to achieve here."

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