Your Move, Cisco: HP ProCurve Steps Up Convergence With New Blade Switches

networking data center

"Think of this as an early chapter in a long book," said Matt Zanner, director of data center solutions at HP ProCurve, in a interview. "I look at the marketplace today and I look at the vendors attempting to deliver tightly integrated solutions for data center. I think you can make the argument that HP is uniquely positioned in the marketplace for storage and servers and now within networking for ProCurve."

Specifically, ProCurve launched the ProCurve 6120XG Blade Switch, and also made additions to its existing ProCurve 8200 and 5400 Ethernet switch products.

HP ProCurve's 6120XG Blade Switch uses the ProCurve Data Center Connection Manager for automating network connections, and according to Zanner is intended for virtualized and other-high performance application environments, helping to limit power consumption and decrease operating expenses. The 6120XG also will give users the ability to integrate Fibre Channel and Ethernet networks, and can cover a range of legacy equipment from 1-Gb to 10-Gb Ethernet.

HP ProCurve also updated the switches in its 8200 and 5400 switch families to give them common architecture, security and management tools and better support the demands of unified communications, video surveillance and Power-over-Ethernet.

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HP further tweaked Virtual Connect with a firmware upgrade that according to ProCurve offers twice the Fibre Channel bandwidth at a lower cost and, through Virtual Connect Flex-10, allows IT administrators to support up to 128 virtual LANs and change network connections at will without having to reboot.

Zanner said the product debuts continue a "nice, consistent drumbeat" from ProCurve on the data center networking front -- a wider breadth of ProCurve products for channel partners trying to better understand the convergence.

"Bringing these additional arrows into the quiver helps those end-to-end solution providers, who are now much better armed to offer a complete HP solution even if they may already be specialized in one area or another," Zanner said. "You now have glue between a blade server specialist and a networking specialist, and there's opportunity on both sides."

A number of other vendors have entered the converged networking and data center pool, of course, but much of the spotlight throughout 2009 has been on Cisco and HP, both of which made major market pushes in the past year.

HP's networking strides with ProCurve are seen as crucial to its challenge to Cisco -- a competition getting fiercer and with greater implications for the channel all the time. And just as HP began trumpeting ProCurve as a lower-cost alternative to Cisco gear, Cisco stepped into a market HP already knew well -- blade servers and data center -- with its Unified Computing System (UCS).

Phil Hochmuth, senior analyst for enterprise research at the Yankee Group, said HP ProCurve's latest announcements aren't so much about the products as the continued messaging.

"The long-term implications are the story more than the actual products. The blade switch, enhanced Ethernet, that's all interesting stuff and definitely the kind of thing you want to see, but the biggest thing is the coming together of ProCurve with the TSG [HP's Technology Systems Group]," Hochmuth said. "That started happening last year, of course, but HP is saying this is how it's going to be going forward -- joint announcements and interoperability -- whereas before, the networking team and the server groups operated not just in silos but what felt like other planets."

Hochmuth said he expected to see more messaging and more development of ProCurve's product line as it relates to networking's role in the data center, especially where virtualization is concerned.

"It's a message of, 'We've brought all of our assets to bear against Cisco,' which is obviously now a server and a networking player," he said. "It's a reaffirmation from HP that says, 'Look, we have all this, too, and we've been in servers longer.' The importance of the network is emphasized in a lot of these things, and that's the reason why HP is suddenly so interested in the ProCurve group. It's not just that Cisco is competing with them, it's the importance of the network as a strategic platform."