HP Challenges Cisco Catalyst 6500 Upgrade Claims

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Hewlett Packard is questioning Cisco's assertion that its upgraded Catalyst 6500 switch provides better investment protection and value than a comparable data networking switch infrastructure from HP.

Cisco on Tuesday announced a long-awaited upgrade to Catalyst 6500, its most popular single product. Among the highlights are Cisco's Supervisor Engine 2T, a 2-terabit card that offers 80 Gbps, per-slot and, according to Cisco, triples the 6500's throughput from 720 Gbps to 2Tbps and quadruples the number of devices that can connect to the network.

According to Cisco, it's a competitive advantage. Whereas an upgrade to Sup 2T on existing Catalyst switches would run customers about $38,000, a forklift upgrade to a comparable HP switch architecture would likely cost that customer more than $100,000 and gives the customer only 720 Gbps of throughput, according to statements Cisco executives made at Cisco Live this week.

That claim is specious, HP said Wednesday. The comparison itself is for an upgrade to a 6500-E platform, said Mike Nielsen, director, solution marketing for HP Networking, and specifically for the Catalyst 6513E, which began shipping last fall, not the entire Catalyst 6500 portfolio.

Cisco, said Nielsen, should also highlight that to use the virtual switching system (VSS) on the Catalyst 6500, an upgraded line card is required.

"If you've only been shipping a chassis for six months, there's not a lot of investment protection there," Nielsen said. "Couple that with the fact that if you want to do virtualized switching, you have to add the virtual line modules, and it starts being a disingenuous claim that it's not a forklift upgrade, because it is."

The argument that the Catalyst upgrade gives partners the ability to sell more to customers in the a vast Catalyst installed base is valid, Nielsen said -- to a point.

"I don't want to downplay the Catalyst installed base," Nielsen said. "But I don't think it's genuine for Cisco to say they're offering investment protection for that entire customer base when they're really talking about a product that's only been in the market for a few months."

A former HP employee from 1993 to 1997, Nielsen, who held several senior leadership roles at Cisco from 1997 to 2001, and again from 2003 to 2008, rejoined HP in February 2011.

He said the comparison Cisco made at Cisco Live is for the Catalyst 6500 to an HP 9500 switch. A more recently released HP switch line, the A10500 Campus Core line, launched alongside HP's FlexNetwork architecture in May, outperforms the Catalyst 6513E and 6590E switches, he said, by offering 160 Gbps per slot versus 80 Gbps per slot.

HP also offers more simplified management through its Intelligent Management Center (IMC), versus scores of Cisco's management tools like Cisco Prime and Cisco Data Center Manager, Nielsen said.

The competitive posturing is the latest instance of an ongoing war between HP and Cisco for networking and data center mindshare dating back several years.

Next: Market Share Gains

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