HP On Cisco ACI: It's Not What Customers Are Looking For


On the heels of Cisco's software-defined-networking (SDN) launch event last week, Hewlett-Packard said it feels more confident than ever it can beat Cisco in the SDN space, and that it's already prepping its partners to ensure that that happens.

"Having seen [Cisco's] announcement, it confirms what we anticipated, which is that Cisco is building yet another set of boxes, and those boxes will sit in a proprietary, enclosed environment," said Bethany Mayer, senior vice president and general manager of HP networking. "And, aside from being a proprietary environment, it will also cost customers a lot of money to move or transition to essentially what should have been happening long ago in Cisco environments, which is more automation and management."

Mayer spoke to CRN after Cisco unveiled its new application-centric infrastructure (ACI), the networking giant's answer to the buzzed-about software-defined-networking trend, along with plans to acquire its SDN-focused "spin-in" Insieme Networks.

 

[Related: 7 Tough Questions For Cisco, Insieme Execs After ACI Launch]

Cisco said at the launch of ACI -- a data centric fabric comprised of software, a new Cisco controller, and a next-generation line of Nexus switches -- that ACI is a more scalable and easily managed alternative to the bulk of SDN technologies on the market today.

But some Cisco rivals, including HP, aren't convinced.

"From our perspective, we don't think that's really what customers are looking for," Mayer said.

HP's argument against Cisco ACI is that ACI "locks" customers into proprietary Cisco gear, denying them what HP called "the economic and game-changing simplification, automation and application development benefits promised by SDN."

"When I say it's a closed environment I mean it's a Cisco controller, with Cisco gear, using Cisco proprietary protocols to access that gear. That's proprietary," Mayer said. "In the world of SDN, we have embraced OpenFlow and other open-standards-based protocols in order to access our switches and reconfigure and program them. That is very, very different, and that means that other third-party controllers can also interact and program with our switches, if the customer desires that."

Glenn Conley, president and CEO of MetroPark Communications, a St. Louis- based solution provider, said that HP's open strategy around SDN could help pique the interest of customers who may have turned their backs on HP networking in the past.

"HP is certainly trying to find their own way back to genuineness somehow. Maybe a more open strategy will pique some interest. After years of being orphaned on the networking side and seeing so many decisions that just greatly upset both the channel and end users, maybe having a more open software play makes sense," Conley said. "Our customers simply don't look at HP as a great networking provider anymore. We have seen many of our SMB customers jump away from HP networking solutions for several years now, and HP really has made a big effort with us to help stem that tide."

NEXT: HP's SDN Partner Strategy