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HP-3Com acquisition: An integrated networking portfolio emerges

The HP Cisco battle is heating up now that the HP-3Com acquisition has closed and the new HP Networking portfolio has emerged. HP promises an edge-to-core networking portfolio with a unified fabric that is cheaper and more power efficient than Cisco's. But how integrated can the equipment be this soon?

HP outlined its 3Com integration plans Monday, including an edge-to-core networking portfolio with a unified data center fabric that executives promise will be less expensive and more power efficient than Cisco's, fueling the ongoing HP-Cisco war. The question remains, however, just how integrated the equipment can be, given how little time HP has had to work with 3Com equipment.

HP's integrated portfolio, announced just a week after the $2.7 billion HP-3Com acquisition closing, combines HP's ProCurve LAN edge products with 3Com's enterprise security, core switching and routing offerings. The new integrated portfolio will be sold under the name HP Networking (both the ProCurve and 3Com brands will be retired). HP doesn't plan to discontinue any 3Com product in the short term -- though it's unlikely that 3Com switches that overlap with ProCurve will be around for long. The integrated portfolio does not yet include new technology.

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HP-3Com acquisition

Cisco and HP data center frenemies

Waving the ever-popular convergence flag, HP executives said during a media webcast that the goal of the portfolio is to eliminate IT silos and unify networking, servers and storage in a single fabric with one management system. Taking aim at Cisco's strikingly similar offering, executives promised open standards and the ability for customers to transition their networks without the need to rip and replace. The Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) strategy ultimately requires that users build from the ground up.

Enterprise clients are currently "working with fragile network infrastructure" in "management environments that are hard to manage, vulnerable and expensive to maintain," said Marius Haas, senior vice president and general manager of HP networking. "With HP, clients will have a network that is open, flexible and robust," he said, and one with collapsed network layers to enable ease of automation and a flexible pool of resources.

Real integration in the HP-3Com acquisition so quickly?

Considering that Cisco spent years planning its UCS and that the Juniper Stratus data center plan has been in the works for many months and won't be available until 2011, some find it hard to believe that HP can actually have a tightly integrated networking portfolio with a true unified fabric involving 3Com's equipment.

Many believe the HP-3Com acquisition was more a move to gain ground in the hot Chinese market, where 3Com's H3C brand is beating Cisco. In fact, most analysts believed it to be more of an account control move than one that was especially tech savvy. With Cisco's launch into the server space, HP needed to hold ground against Cisco and the possibility that IBM would push back through stronger partnerships with Juniper and Brocade or, even worse, rebuild its own networking portfolio, according to Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corporation.

"But the buyer isn't interested in sales goals," Nolle said. "You have to create some meaningful integration here. This seems to be facile … that they would have all this done so quickly."

Meaningful integration doesn't necessarily mean just using existing open standards and patching together management systems across the product sets, he added.

David Yen, Juniper's executive vice president of emerging technologies, speaking to on Monday from the Cloud Computing Expo in New York, also questioned the speediness of HP Networking's integrated portfolio.

"Juniper has been working on this for three years," Yen said, adding that he assumes that HP is promising heavily tested integration. "I am skeptical. Once you remove the marketing façade, it can't come anywhere close. Their first challenge is trying to integrate the two companies' product lines, which have significant overlap … and then trying to integrate the two organizations together. Even for large players with sufficient time and prioritization, it takes time to put together a useful set and get customers started on trying them and giving feedback."

For its part, HP said the networking portfolio has already been deployed in a few major companies, including BMW. And HP drank its own Kool-Aid, announcing Monday that it had opened its own "Cisco-free" data center using 34 3Com routers, four TippingPoint intrusion detection and protection devices, and more than 300 ProCurve switches. The new architecture saves the company 50% in consumption levels, executives said.

The HP Networking portfolio breakdown

Specifically, the HP Networking portfolio can be broken into four categories: a security solution, and product sets for the enterprise, midmarket, and smaller businesses.

The A Series will focus on the large enterprise data center and is most likely to go head-to-head with Cisco. It promises a virtual switching fabric and includes a mixture of 3Com's H3C switches, routers and wireless equipment along with the ProCurve edge 6600 switches and the 6120 blade switch. The E Series focuses on the midsized market and includes wired and wireless LAN integration and wireless access technology, as well as 3Com's VoIP product set and a series of switches. The V Series includes a wireless firewall, security and plug-and-play switches for companies with little or no IT staff. Finally, the S Series includes TippingPoint security products, including intrusion detection and prevention systems.

HP executives said the company is currently developing products that support converged enhanced Ethernet and FCoE, but they didn't elaborate. They also said major storage products would not be introduced as part of the portfolio.

HP's Marius Haas summed up the company's position saying, "We believe storage partnerships are the way to go."

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