Cisco Fires Back At HP In Catalyst Switch Showdown

Scott Gainey, Cisco's director of switching solutions, took to Cisco's Borderless Networks blog to issue a point-by-point rebuttal to claims HP made last week about the investment protection, affordability and features contained in Cisco's upgraded Catalyst 6500 switches.

It's an unusual step for Cisco, which in the past 18 months has largely avoided explicit public criticism of HP and other rivals. But it's only the latest shot fired in an increasingly ugly war between Cisco and HP for mindshare and wallet share among networking and data center customers -- one that escalated anew last week with the Catalyst 6500 announcement at Cisco Live in Las Vegas.

In that announcement, Gainey and other Cisco executives said that Cisco's Supervisor Engine 2T, a 2-terabit card offering 80 Gbps per slot, triples the existing Catalyst 6500 switch's throughput from 720 Gbps to 2 Tbps, and also quadruples the number of devices that can connect to a network.

Existing Catalyst 6500 customers -- an enormous cross-section of the industry, according to Cisco, comprising $42 billion in installs since the 6500's introduction 12 years ago -- would need only to pay $38,000 for a full upgrade to the Sup2T, whereas a comparable HP investment would mean a forklift upgrade costing more than $100,000.

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In other words, said Gainey at the time, three times the price for only 720 Gbps -- one-third -- of the throughput.

HP was quick to challenge Cisco's Catalyst 6500 announcement, and in a targeted response to journalists covering Cisco Live, said Cisco is basing its information off a comparison to an HP 9500 switch, while comparing Catalyst 6500 to HP's more recently released A10500 campus core line would provide a more apples-to-apples argument.

HP's Mike Nielsen, director, solution marketing for HP Networking and a former Cisco executive, also urged Cisco to highlight that the use of its virtual switching system (VSS) on the Catalyst 6500 requires an upgraded line card -- making Cisco's claims about minimal upgrades disingenuous, HP says. Also, he said, many of Cisco's claims apply only to the Catalyst 6513E, which began shipping last fall.

"I don't want to downplay the Catalyst installed base," Nielsen told CRN last week. "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."

Cisco responded to HP's claims withe Friday's blog post; Gainey railed back against HP, saying that Cisco hasn't yet tested its upgraded Catalysts against the A10500.

"We're perfectly happy to do this but we found it's really hard to do a comparison with a product that doesn't yet exist," Gainey wrote. "Don't believe us? Go look at the HP web site. You won't find any details to support HP's claims."

HP's claim that the comparison only works with a Catalyst that's been out since last fall is also incorrect, Gainey asserts.

"The Catalyst 6500 E-Series has been in the market for seven years and is in 80 percent of our installed base customer networks. 80 percent!" he wrote. "So, for 80 percent of our customers, migrating to the Sup2T really is as simple as a $38,000 list price upgrade."

Cisco customers don't need a line card upgrade to use the VSS feature, Gainey added.

"In the spirit of simplicity the uplinks on the supervisor are capable of forming VSL links for a complete Virtual Switching System," he said.

Gainey also said that the Catalyst 6500 Sup2T upgrade is available already, meaning Cisco won't "follow in HP's footsteps by not actually delivering a product that was announced months ago."

"It became orderable on July 12, and began shipping volume only 48 hours later on July 14," he said. "That's exactly the type of reliable networking customers need. Hollow promises are not 'good enough,' HP."

Solution providers have told CRN they're growing weary of constant "marketing wars" between Cisco and HP, though many of Cisco's top partners who attended Cisco Live said that HP's aggression will ultimately benefit Cisco -- currently in the midst of a corporate restructuring with the goals of simplifying how it does business and re-focusing on its key product lines -- in the long run.