HP sets sights on Cisco with FlexNetwork architecture

Dave Donatelli

HP ESSN chief Dave Donatelli

The latest shot in the networking war comes from HP, which has announced a new initiative it’s calling the FlexNetwork architecture. Now with its own architecture strategy (Cisco detailed its architecture strategy at Partner Summit in early March), HP continues to push its main competitor in the networking space — this time with promises of improved performance, reduced latency and better security than comparable Cisco products.

FlexNetwork incorporates four key pillars — FlexFabric (for simplifying data center infrastructure), FlexCampus (for improving performance and reducing latency in campus environments), FlexBranch (for extending and simplifying network and security to the branch, naturally) and FlexManagement (for reducing the complexity found in network management).

Many of HP’s existing products fit into the new architecture strategy, but the company also announced several new products that will be key elements of FlexNetwork.

The new A10500 Series enterprise core switches (of which there will be three launching in the second half of 2011) is being pitted directly against Cisco Catalyst switches, and according to Dave Donatelli, executive vice president and general manager for ESSN at HP Enterprise Business, the A10500 switches outperform comparable Catalyst switches in increased performance and reduced latency.

HP executives made similar statements over the new line cards for the E5400 and E8200 switches. Performance was on HP executives’ minds during the launch of FlexNetwork, and it factored into almost all of its discussions.

Even in network management, HP compared itself directly to its chief rival. HP Intelligent Management Center (IMC) v5 can manage approximately 2,600 HP and third-party devices that connect to the network. Of those devices, a little more than 1,000 are Cisco devices.

“Customers tell us that we manage Cisco better than Cisco,” said Marius Haas, senior vice president and general manager of HP Networking.

“That one is a differentiator, and once people see the demonstration and get a real appreciation for the product, that’s something that you’ll see any company can use,” said Erik Papir, worldwide technical marketing manager for HP Networking.

HP also announced a new intrusion prevention system, the HP TippingPoint S6100N IPS appliance. Keeping with the theme of improved performance, HP executives noted that the inspection throughoutput of the S6100N appliance is 8Gbps (or 16Gbps with paired, virtualized appliances). Papir said HP has nearly doubled the previous inspection throughput cap with the S6100N.

When it comes to pricing, HP didn’t announce specific pricing for the upcoming products, but Donatelli did say during a Q&A session with media that they would come in at about 35 per cent under the market leader’s pricing for comparable products. That’s about to be expected from HP, as it has generally been favourable in pricing when compared to the premiums on Cisco products. Additionally, HP’s lifetime warranty offer isn’t going to change.

However, HP executives made several statements that it was focusing on innovation in what is essentially a stagnant market.

“Really, it’s a market that suffered from a lack of innovation for a very long time, as well as a lack of competition,” Donatelli said during his opening comments that kicked off the FlexNetwork press conference.

According to Donatelli, HP has spent the last two years trying to transform the networking industry, and for anyone not hiding under a rock during that time, it’s obvious who the technology giant has been targeting with its products and strategies. The company introduced its converged infrastructure strategy 18 months ago, and FlexNetwork builds on that strategy (it’s a core component of converged infrastructure, in fact).

“This FlexNetwork architecture rolls up into our converged infrastructure story. We are looked at and compared to Cisco from a networking perpsective, whereas we’d really like to be compared across the entire fabric,” Papir said.

It’s a battle of the architectures, and HP isn’t being secretive about wanting a bigger slice of the networking pie. Surely, this will not be the last shot fired between these two giants.