HP buys into the wireless

In a bid to expand its wireless line, Hewlett Packard is buying a Massachusetts-based maker of wireless LAN solutions with Canadian roots.

HP said Monday it will buy privately-held Colubris Networks for an undisclosed sum and completely integrate its line into the HP ProCurve Networking portfolio. The deal is expected to close in October.

The move not only gets HP a line of products built around the 802.11n standard it didn’t have, the company said it will also expand ProCurve’s reach into vertical markets that Colubris has specialized in such as hospitality, transportation, healthcare, manufacturing, service provider and education.

Colubris’ products include multi-service wireless access points with single, dual or triple radios, the MSC 500 and 3000 series of wireless controllers, a client bridge and a network management system.

Colubris was founded in 2000 by Pierre Trudeau, now the company’s CTO, in Laval, Que. The company’s research and development office is stil there. Early last year Rob Scott took over as the company’s president and CEO. Before joining Colubris he’d worked at a number of young companies including IP telephony Xelor Software and IPeria, a provider of network-based voice messaging applications.

“It makes a lot of sense for HP to pursue acquisitions like this,” said Carmi Levi, senior vice-president of strategic consulting at AR Communications Inc. of London, Ont.

“The Colubris deal will give HP additional leverage in selling its already well-respected networking products more deeply into the vertical markets that represent the bulk of future growth.” As a result, he said, HP can avoid the commoditization that lower-cost Asian wireless equipment makes are creating.

The acquisition also points out how small makers of 802.11n gear are being swallowed by others. Last month, for example, Belden Inc. of St. Louis, Mo., bought WLAN vendor Trapeze Networks for US$133 million in cash. Trapeze, Aruba and Meru Networks were on HP’s shopping list before it bought Colubris, according to an HP executive.

Next on the acquisition list could be Meru Networks. Chris Silva of Forrester Research says Meru, with its voice over WLAN technology, would be a good fit with Nortel Networks and help broaden the Canadian company’s enterprise wireless portfolio.

HP’s purchase of Colubris makes “a really good combination,” Silva said. Until now Colubris had been limited in growing because of its size. Now it can take advantage of HP’s channel network. For HP, which Silva said had been holding off on 802.11n products until the standard is ratified by the IEEE, the deal finally gets it into a technology other leading networking vendors have been in for some time.

“We were missing some 802.11n capabilities in our portfolio” Marius Haas, senior vice-president and general manager of HP ProCurve acknowledged in an interview. In addition to gaining that technology, he added, Colubris has a very strong go-to- market capability in some of their vertical solutions. “So as we go to market together with a holistic wired and wireless solution, we will be able to build incremental synergies.”

Colubris’ latest customers include Ramsay Health Care, a global hospital group operating more than 100 hospitals and day surgery facilities across Australia, the United Kingdom and Indonesia. More than 11 Multi-Service Access Points (MAP-330s) and controllers have been deployed across 11 Ramsay sites. In addition to allowing access to information wirelessly, Ramsay uses the system to track sterilized surgical equipment before, during and after surgical procedures employing a system utilizing bar codes and wireless scanners.

Another recent customer is an Arizona public school board with 97 schools. The goal is to enable teachers and students at each school to wirelessly access data ranging from student information, library management and physical plant work order systems to e-mail, Internet access and streaming video.

In June Colubris’ Intelligent Mobility Solution, the company’s flagship wireless LAN software, was upgraded to include integration with hotel property management systems; Integration with credit-card processing systems; the ability to offer subscription plans; a security overlay for Payment Card Industry compliance; and an improved ability to inject ads onto portal pages.

Colubris sells strictly through channel partners. In April it launched a new three-tier (authorized, select and premier) channel program. Select and premier partners are eligible for market development funds, customized sales campaigns and an online deal registration program.

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