Hewlett-Packard will finally announce end-of-sale for the VCX VoIP system it acquired with 3Com -- something longtime VCX solution providers maintain is a big mistake given the product's loyal channel following and potential to make HP a truer end-to-end networking competitor against Cisco Systems.
HP representatives told CRN the forthcoming move would affect most VCX products, including servers and gateways. HP, Palo Alto, Calif., will send the formal end-of-sale notice later this month, with the actual end-sale date expected to be in December 2012.
HP will sell phones and software licenses into 2013 and will continue to support VCX customers for the HP-standard five years. It also already is assisting larger VCX customers with migration strategies. But for all intents and purposes, 2012 will be VCX's swan song, and HP will exit the voice market, pointing partners and customers toward VoIP and unified communications solutions from strategic allies such as Microsoft, ShoreTel and Aastra.
"It is in our best interest to focus on those partnerships and de-emphasize our development of products like the VCX," Mark Hilton, HP Networking product line manager, LAN Edge Solutions, told CRN. "We're not going to cut this off at the knees. But this is the right time to transition off of that platform."
[Related: HP Hangs Up On 3Com VoIP VARs]
HP's decision bookends the long decline of a once-proud set of VoIP products many partners say got lost in the shuffle following 3Com's implosion in the latter part of the last decade, and then were largely ignored by HP following its $2.7 billion acquisition of 3Com in 2010.
Solution providers initially were hopeful HP would focus on the platform and make the necessary R&D investments to keep it competitive with Cisco, Avaya and other VoIP players. But HP in January 2011 told CRN it had shifted VCX into "maintenance mode," meaning it would see only basic platform updates and support.
The handling of that process -- including persistent rumors that HP had considered selling the VoIP unit -- was much criticized by members of the former 3Com voice reseller community, who said an in-house HP VoIP solution would benefit the whole HP Networking ecosystem because of how voice solutions create demand for data infrastructure.
Solution providers said HP hasn't communicated much about VCX's future, save for a vaguely worded email sent to partners about six months ago saying that VCX's current software release, 9.8, would be its last update and that an end-of-sale announcement was on the horizon.
"They've told us zero," said Glenn Conley, president and CEO of Metropark Communications, a St. Louis-based solution provider and longtime VCX partner. "I've reached out a multitude of times. They don't want to talk about it."
Demand for the product has continued to decline in the past two years, HP's Hilton said, and it no longer makes sense for the company to invest in it. HP's global PBX system market share as of 2011, according to the Dell'Oro Group, already was less than 1 percent of a market heavily dominated by Avaya and Cisco and choked with challengers including Microsoft, ShoreTel, Mitel, Alcatel-Lucent and Siemens Enterprise Communications.
But solution providers said that if interest in VCX is dwindling, it's partly because HP did not put any marketing muscle behind it and failed to nurture the still-passionate community of former 3Com VoIP dealers.
"They're willing to buy Palm and get rid of it, and spend how many billion on Autonomy?" said Mark Essayian, president of KME Systems, a Lake Forest, Calif.-based solution provider. "I get that it is a small product and that it's half a percent of the voice networking [market] for them. But you could spend $100 million on it and make it a [killer] product. You have a community that supports it already."
"I really think that they missed the boat on this," said Robert Betzel, president of Infinity Network Solutions, a Macon, Ga.-based solution provider. "They were going to be another player next to Cisco that can give you end-to-end. Now it's a piecemeal deal with different manufacturers. When it's a piecemeal deal, who really cares if it's an HP router or switch? You lose that seamless integration and seamless continuity you get from end to end."
NEXT: HP Directs Partners To Lync, ShoreTel, Aastra