HP's ProCurve Looks To Move On Up

ProCurve recently passed Nortel Networks to take over the number two slot in enterprise networking revenue and the number of ports shipped to businesses. Next in ProCurve's sights: Cisco, or at least parts of Cisco. Until now, ProCurve has been largely competing, and winning in some instances, on price. Gartner has rated ProCurve as the only legitimate challenger to Cisco in its most recent Magic Quadrant for networking. Magic Quadrants rate vendors by completeness of vision and ability to execute.

ProCurve general manager and VP John McHugh says competing on price isn't enough. "It's clear that we need to represent a clear, competent alternative to Cisco because price alone doesn't take you away from Cisco," he says.

The company's "Adaptive Networks" strategy, itself a take-off of HP's overall vision for the "Adaptive Enterprise," hinges on management, specifically on application-aware networking devices and programs that can manage traffic flow. For example, ProCurve's Identity Driven Manager uses standard protocols to auto-discover all users and devices on the network, define which user is using which device at a given time, and give administrators control over the employee's experience of various applications.

"A complicated application environment like we have today requires the network to understand applications it sees and the ability for management utilities to act in a business manner, not in a device manner," says McHugh.

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Security is another important element of McHugh's plan, which has been hashed out over the last six months with help from partners and customers. In McHugh's longer-tail view of ProCurve's future, he says, "there are lots of opportunities to start looking at security [and] access from a very holistic HP standpoint." But, he says, many customers still look at the network infrastructure and the world of applications as distant from one another, so access controls like Cisco's NAC or Microsoft's NAP may be a while away.

On the other hand, ProCurve's recent growth means the company is beginning to be able to leverage HP's huge services group and channel community, and has begun to do so. It has an initiative to acquire higher-end channel partners and McHugh says there's now a lot of engagement with HP Services where historically there has been little to none.

Still, ProCurve's also got a long way to catch up with Cisco, which dominates both the switch and router markets with more than 70% of the market share by revenue in each market. And ProCurve isn't yet even the clear number two, as McHugh admits. "I think I still don't get any free ride, I don't get a swell of customers or awareness that I wouldn't have had otherwise," he says.

Customers may never give ProCurve a free ride, but with all that investment in security and management it seems like HP is driving in the right direction.