3Com Corp. and HP ProCurve Networking this week both detailed their new network strategies, focusing more on what the network does than what it is. And while both vendors jockey to establish themselves in a mature, Cisco-dominated market, networking pros will also have to adapt and turn their attention to using the network as a service platform.
HP ProCurve announced its five-year vision of "Adaptive Networks," a strategy that shows the network adapting to users, applications and an organization's needs as the network grows and those needs change. At the same time, 3Com hit with its plan for an Open Services Network, a network platform that allows users to add in services from 3Com, third-party vendors and open source developers to ensure that the network better fills business needs.
The pair of announcements may herald a transition in the way networking pros do their job.
"What I think we're noticing as an overall trend here is that when products become more mainstream, the people who use them have to change," said Robert Whiteley, senior analyst with Forrester Research.
According to Whiteley, networking pros may now have to focus strongly on applications and services that run on the network.
"The network architect is evolving," he said. "Now a network architect has to worry about voice and security, and now application performance."
John McHugh, vice president and general manager of HP ProCurve, said the new Adaptive Networks philosophy will allow businesses to complete IT initiatives while providing them a path to turn their networks into strategic assets. The vision, McHugh said, will be achieved by products that fortify security, increase productivity and reduce complexity.
"It's a new look at what we believe are major trends and major [shifts] forcing functions on the network," he said. "If mobility, security and convergence are going to be the major capabilities being added to corporate networks, we'll adapt to that."
The Adaptive Networks vision builds on a similar plan announced by HP ProCurve more than five years ago. That plan, called Adaptive Edge, has now been extended to five years out.
According to McHugh, Adaptive Networks builds on ProCurve's current architectural blueprint for enterprise networks, the Adaptive Edge architecture. The new vision, he said, positions the network to adapt to users, applications and the organization. Adaptive Networks uses identity and device management tools to adapt to users and personalize their experience regardless of where they're working or what connection they're using. To adapt to applications, the Adaptive Network uses standards-based, convergence-ready technologies that can integrate IP telephony, video, Web-based, collaborative and future applications. Lastly, the new ProCurve network adapts to the organization, letting a company focus on its business goals instead of devoting time, money and resources to running the network.
"The Adaptive Networks vision is about business case services," McHugh said.
The key to the Adaptive Networks strategy is "the unknown," the services and tools that will be embedded into the network but have not yet seen the light of day, McHugh said. Adaptive Networks, he said, will help companies leverage and adjust to those services.
"A lot of the most exciting things that are going to be deployed [will] be deployed as part of the network," he said. "We want to build a network infrastructure that doesn't need to know from the get-go what's going to be needed."
Being able to prepare the network for future needs is also at the core of 3Com's latest network roadmap, OSN, which leverages numerous technology partnerships to add a vast array of services to the network, according to Scott Hilton, 3Com's vice president, product line management, data products.
Essentially, Hilton said, the OSN is a platform that lets enterprise network pros customize the network according to their business needs by integrating applications and services within the infrastructure, which is powered by 3Com routers and switches. Network pros have more and more requirements -- security, compliance, visibility, VoIP, mobility and optimization -- that they want added into the network. Hilton said the ability to add those services now and to have a platform ready for future services is at the center of 3Com OSN.
Currently, 3Com has partnered with different technology vendors as part of its 3Com Open Network (ON) program. Initial applications include Converged Access' data and voice optimization; Vericept's visibility and control application for compliance requirements; VMware, which offers virtualization; and Q1 Labs, which provides flow-based network anomaly assessment. 3Com is also offering an Open Source Service Monitoring bundle, leveraging some open source-based network and service management applications.
According to Yankee Group vice president Zeus Kerravala, both HP's and 3Com's entries into new territories are attempts to separate themselves from Cisco, the dominant network hardware vendor that boasts nearly 80% of the market. Kerravala said that HP has so far been successful with its Adaptive Network plans and currently holds the No. 2 slot in revenue and ports sold.
"While there's no de facto alternate to Cisco, they have the best position," he said.
3Com is trying to separate itself from the pack, however, by trying a new tack, instead of selling what Cisco and ProCurve already have available.
"When you sell something in a mature market, you have to have a compelling story," Kerravala said. "3Com has to create alternate ways to do it."
Kerravala compared 3Com's OSN strategy to Cisco's Integrated Services Router (ISR), which has sold record numbers. He said 3Com is taking a multi-vendor approach, which is similar to a Swiss Army Knife that comes with the ability to let users add to it over time so it can adapt.
"It's designed to allow you to embed other services," he said. "The platform is in place to future-proof the network."
The OSN strategy allows third-party and open source applications to run on 3Com's platform, Kerravala said. If, down the road, users want to add to it, they can, depending on the partnership 3Com stirs up along the way.
"3Com really needs to create a broad partner base," he said. "It has to be significantly broad enough to allow for numerous services. How appealing would an iPod be if there wasn't mp3?"
At a time when the idea of filling the network with "best of breed" solutions has turned into adding in technology that's "good enough," the focus is again shifting, Kerravala said.
Now, more than ever, the networking pro is charged with ensuring that services and applications are embedded in the network, he said. Both 3Com's and HP ProCurve's approaches indicate that network pros will also have to shift.
"That's a trend that's been coming for a while," he said. "There's a number of services best done in the network."
Forrester Research's Robert Whiteley said both 3Com and ProCurve are now finding a mainstream audience that wants quality gear without having to master Cisco's complexity.
"By and large, the average network administrator is going to be able to knowingly work with this stuff without feeling like it's an experiment," Whiteley said.
ProCurve's ideas are almost a hybrid between Cisco's and 3Com's visions, Kerravala said, further fueling the "network as a platform" mentality.
"What makes it realistic today is that IP networks have become ubiquitous," he said. "Before, every service was down on its own network and that made things complicated. Now that everything's connected [with IP], it's much easier. The vision was there before, but the networks weren't in place to support it."