HP ProCurve enhances gigabit, management

Hewlett-Packard Co. again signaled its intention to play major league ball in networking with the introduction Monday of new management software and high-speed Ethernet equipment.

The company has better focused its resources behind its ProCurve enterprise LAN division in the past year and boosted its sales amid a mostly flat networking market, according to some industry analysts. A significant price advantage against leader Cisco Systems Inc. and other rivals has helped the unit score more sales in tough times, they said.

HP’s focus with ProCurve is on simplicity, security and low overall cost of ownership, according to Amol Mitra, director of product marketing for the ProCurve Networking Business.

On Monday the ProCurve unit fleshed out its offerings for gigabit Ethernet to the desktop and 10-gigabit Ethernet on the corporate backbone, as well as its network management software. Gigabit Ethernet on desktops, already supported on many PCs, can allow an enterprise to change the way it handles data, according to Leanne Leon, product manager with HP. The fast connection can allow employees to use large files over the network without long delays, so the files can stay on a server, she said. That may mean greater productivity because employees don’t have to wait for a copy of the file to download, and different copies of the file won’t proliferate as users make changes to their downloaded copies.

The company introduced 10/100/1000Mbps Ethernet stackable switches, the 24-port Switch 2824 and 48-port Switch 2848, both of which support basic IP routing. Both also include the option of using fibre on some ports.

For its ProCurve Switch 4100gl Series chassis, HP introduced a 22-port 10/100/1000Mbps module with fibre options. It also offered two new bundles: the 4160gl, an 8-slot chassis with three of the new modules, and the 4140gl, a four-slot chassis with two of the new modules. Early next year, HP will ship a new module for the ProCurve Switch 5300xl Series chassis, with 16 10/100/1000Mbps ports including fibre options, Leon said.

For the ProCurve 9300 Series chassis, HP introduced a two-port 10-gigabit Ethernet module available with single-mode fibre ports for long-range or extended-range network connections. Long-range optics can support runs as long as 10 kilometres and extended-range optics can support distances as great as 40 kilometres.

ProCurve has also enhanced its software for managing a network. Starting Nov. 1, with every managed switch it will provide the new HP ProCurve Manager software, which offers administrator features such as network status information, automatic discovery of ProCurve devices, mapping of network devices and the ability to manage devices remotely. The software can also be downloaded free.

For more management capabilities, HP unveiled HP ProCurve Manager Plus. It includes tools for enforcing business policies through different network priorities and quality of service and for assigning switch ports to virtual LANs.

The 2800 series of gigabit Ethernet switches look like a good bet for connecting servers to a network used for back-ups at Media General Inc., in Richmond, Va., said Richard Lee, the company’s director of operations. Moving from 100Mbps to 1Gbps Ethernet slashed back-up times in testing of a 2800 series switch, Lee said. Media General, a longtime user of HP systems and network gear, uses a mix of Cisco and HP equipment. The HP products are very reliable and often much less expensive, and a lifetime warranty and free support add to the savings, he said.

“You buy the box and that’s it,” Lee said.

Competitive pricing, a respected brand, product simplicity and expansion into new categories such as fixed-configuration Layer 3 routing switches are among the factors that have helped ProCurve make gains in the market, analysts said.

ProCurve’s Ethernet switch revenue grew 18 per cent between the first and second quarters of this year while its port shipments increased 12 per cent, according to Mark Fabbi, vice-president of enterprise communications at Gartner Inc. In the second quarter HP was fourth worldwide in enterprise Ethernet switch revenue behind Cisco, Nortel Networks Corp. and 3Com Corp., and third in port shipments, behind Cisco and 3Com, he said.

Market research company Dell’Oro Group Inc. reported the same revenue rankings for the second quarter and said ProCurve is just slightly behind 3Com. It grabbed 3.3 per cent of Ethernet switch revenue that quarter, behind Nortel’s nine per cent and Cisco’s overpowering 68 per cent market share, said Dell’Oro analyst Seamus Crehan.

Though the ProCurve division isn’t breathing down Cisco’s neck today, it may be in a few years, some said. First it needs to build up its sales channels and customer base, said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at The Yankee Group, in Boston.

“Once they do that, there’s no reason they can’t become a more formidable opponent,” Kerravala said.

Making its network gear business more competitive with Cisco’s doesn’t threaten HP’s partnership with the dominant vendor, in which HP’s sales force sells Cisco gear along with servers and other IT products, he said. HP wouldn’t drop Cisco unless it thought it could move a greater volume of network gear by doing so, an unlikely conclusion for now, Kerravala said.

For its part, HP believes the strategy is a way to offer customers a choice, Mitra said.

HP’s renewed focus on ProCurve is a smart move because the network gear provides bigger margins than most of the company’s products, according to Kerravala.

“You’ve got to sell a lot of PCs to match what ProCurve makes,” he said. HP officials were not available for comment on product margins.

The Switch 2824 has a list price of US$2,499; the Switch 2848 costs US$4,899. Both are available now. The Switch GL 10/100/1000-T module for the 4100 chassis costs US$2,199, the Switch 4140GL configuration costs US$4,399 and the 4160GL is US$6,499. All three will ship in December. The two-port 10-gigabit Ethernet module for the ProCurve 9300 costs US$35,699. The long-range optic is priced at US$5,999 and the extended-range at US$12,999. Products for the 9300 will be available next month. HP ProCurve Manager Plus can be ordered now and has a recommended list price of US$1,999.

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