HP Networking Boss: Watch Out Cisco, We're Coming On Strong

HP Networking grew 12 percent year-over-year in 2011 -- nothing to sniff at in a tailspin year for the world's biggest IT company. But to hear HP Networking's top executive tell it, that growth is only the beginning of what HP hopes to achieve behind networking-centric channel partners this year at it cements its place as a legitimate challenger to Cisco's long-held data networking dominance.

Bethany Mayer, who was formally named senior vice president and general manager, HP Networking, in October after having the role on an interim basis for six months, said partners should expect a greater emphasis this year on partner incentives specific to HP Networking.

She also confirmed what HP Networking's channel managers told CRN in December: that HP Networking's operating budget got a boost for 2012 and that HP's new CEO is a networking advocate.

"I can't confirm the number, but all of the resources I request, I get," Mayer told CRN, discussing HP's 2012 networking budget. "Meg Whitman is absolutely supportive of HP Networking and is a very strong salesperson for HP Networking. She's out there talking a lot about us."

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Cisco's challengers are legion, but HP has spent the past year coming on strong as a No. 2, winning influence among national solution providers, especially those that already partner with HP in other areas, such as servers and storage.

HP recently introduced new channel incentives, including new certifications in its PartnerOne program specific to HP Networking, and the renewal of its popular Catalyst for Change promotion for displacing Cisco and other competitive vendors' networking products. The new programs, dubbed Professional Networking and Advanced Networking, combined with various HP incentives can net a partner as much as double the return of what it would get on comparable Cisco deals, according to HP.

The immediate response to the new incentives has been strong, Mayer said, and the number of HP Professional Networking partners has increased 100 percent in the past month as partners who wouldn't have qualified for the $500,000 threshold in the Advanced designation can manage the $100,000 threshold for the Professional designation.

HP is continuing to hire specific to HP Networking, Mayer added, and much of that is channel-facing reps. Mayer also said she plans to focus more on planning with HP Networking partners, with annual goals and sales targets, as well as create more HP Networking-specific events. HP Networking will be a focus at HP's Americas Partner Conference in February as well, she said.

"We will spend more time on promotions with partners and also review how we spend the investments we make with the partners so that we both invest appropriately with them and get the return on investment we anticipate," she said. "It's very logical; it just needs to be executed."

NEXT: Virtualization’s Role In The Network

HP will continue to engage partners around its FlexNetwork converged infrastructure architecture and push software tools such as the Intelligent Management Center as a key differentiator for how HP goes to market in networking and the data center. Mayer also noted HP's embrace of network virtualization trends, particularly the OpenFlow protocol and software-defined networking.

"We have the largest substantiation of OpenFlow in our product portfolio of anyone else in the industry," Mayer said. "All of our switches are OpenFlow-enabled. Network virtualization is going to be very important for us, and we have what we think is a very unique and significant management platform."

OpenFlow, which addresses packet routing on a software layer that's separate from a network's physical infrastructure, is seen as both an opportunity and a threat for network switching vendors, which could see further commoditization of switch technology if OpenFlow takes off. But Mayer said HP is wholeheartedly embracing OpenFlow and that virtualization's role in networking is not only crucial, but inevitable.

"The bottom line is that if you don't have that ability for virtualization, you introduce a very serious amount of error," she said. "As a customer, my revenue depends on my not having outages and the majority of errors -- or issues created in the network -- do come from human error, whether it's upgrading the OS on a switch or implementing something incorrectly. Our focus will be on additional ways to automate the infrastructure. [For] folks that don't have that level of intelligence in their virtualization capabilities, OpenFlow is going to be a problem for them."

HP's networking reach is vast, although as an end-to-end networking provider, it adjusted its strategy in 2011 to include partner vendors in some areas instead of in-house products. HP sold off its video telepresence portfolio to Polycom in mid-2011 and effectively killed off the last of the IP PBX products it acquired with 3Com. Polycom is its partner for video endpoints and HP directs partners toward Avaya and Microsoft for voice technologies, although, Mayer points out, HP's switches are optimized for both voice and video.

"The ultimate goal of FlexNetwork, why it's so different than anyone else's offering, is in terms of the operating system and the open architecture. This is an open standards-based portfolio," she said. "If you want to boil it all down, the goal is to make the network simpler."