Dell Enterprise Chief Blasts HP's Copycat Networking Strategy

In the latest jab at Hewlett-Packard, Dell’s enterprise boss called HP's plans to build open switches that can run operating systems from third-party vendors a watered-down, me-too attempt to break into the fast-growing, multibillion-dollar software-defined networking market. Dell’s Marius Haas, chief commercial officer and president, Enterprise Solutions, characterized rival HP’s plans announced last week as too little, too late when it comes to catching up to Dell.

"This is a poor man’s version of what Dell is doing. Essentially they are saying, 'Let's copy someone else, because we don't have a strategy of our own," Haas said.

The red-meat rhetoric comes a week after HP announced it will deliver white-label network switches for data centers starting this March. HP said it will partner with Accton Technology and Cumulus Networks to offer web-scale customers choices in open network environments.

[Related: Battle Of The Titans: Cisco And HP Square Off On White-Box Switches, SDN ]

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"We are not impressed," Haas said. "But, more importantly, we are just focused on what we are doing -- solid integration with an open networking ecosystem that is integrated into our platforms top to bottom. And, so far, the receptivity has been good."

HP's entry into the commodity switch business follows a long list of players, including Dell, Juniper Networks and Arista, each vying to unseat networking kingpin Cisco Systems, which dominates the physical network switch market. According to IDC, the worldwide SDN market will grow from $960 million in 2014 to over $8 billion by 2018.

Haas said Dell has a 12- to 18-month lead ahead of HP on delivering a more comprehensive network disaggregation strategy, where companies can buy commodity hardware and run third-party software to offer networking solutions at a fraction of the cost of Cisco, which sells its own software running on its own gear. Haas characterized HP's reliance on Taiwanese manufacturer Accton Technology as the equivalent of an ODM off-the-shelf solution.

HP didn't return repeated attempts to comment for this article.

For the solution provider SigmaNet, the choice between SDN offerings from either HP or Dell is too close to call. "Dell and HP are all introducing different flavors of the same thing," said Stephen Monteros, vice president, Business Development and Strategy, at SigmaNet, a Dell, HP and Cisco partner based in Greenbelt, Md. "It's an evolving market. Dell has a tiny bit of an advantage. But when it comes to going to market today, we're still very much a traditional Cisco networking partner."

It could take years before the SDN market grows, Monteros said. "The market isn't here today. Customers are just beginning to ask about what their SDN options are. We know the least about what HP is bringing to the table today. But talk to me in a year when more of my customers are ready to get serious about SDN."

Haas said Dell's SDN solution is comprehensive and, when deployed, snaps right into Dell's core platform, "integrating into the whole Dell fabric of how we believe the whole ecosystem architecture comes together." He said it was unclear if HP's SDN solution and white-box strategy worked seamlessly with its own HP ProCurve networking platform or H3C platform.

"From soup to nuts, Dell has all the pieces of the [SDN] puzzle starting today," Haas said. "We are delivering virtualized network ports, network switches and give companies the agility and flexibility to provision and orchestrate assets at the lowest possible cost and at the highest performance possible."

Dell's SDN approach relies on its Active Fabric and an orchestration software layer. Its SDN solutions are comprised of a physical layer SDN using an OpenFlow controller and compatible switches, a virtual network overlay supporting both Microsoft hypervisors and VMware and Citrix's VXLAN, as well as a set of automation APIs based on TCL, Perl and Python. Dell sells bare-metal (S4810 and S6000 series) switches and lets partners and customers pick a network operating system. Dell offers its own proprietary OS, software from Big Switch Networks and a Linux-based OS offered by Cumulus Networks.

While Dell, HP and Juniper slug it out to try to win a piece of the multibillion-dollar SDN market, their newest SDN nemesis is their oldest: Cisco. Earlier this month, at its second-quarter fiscal year earnings briefing, Cisco said its SDN business was booming. "We are pulling away from our competitors and leading in both SDN thought leadership and customer implementations.The market has recognized the benefit of ACI as compared to the concepts of aspirational competitors," said Cisco CEO John Chambers of its own SDN solutions.

In 2014, Cisco dominated the network switch market, capturing 66.2 percent market share through the channel, up 3.6 points from 62.6 percent share in 2013, according to market researcher NPD Group, which tracks sales through distributors. HP was second at 12.4 percent market share in 2014, down 1.7 points from 14.1 percent market share in 2013.