HP and Cisco: Head-to-Head Again in Las Vegas

Las Vegas Sign

Two channel conferences in the same town at the same time. Where else?

Las Vegas is a familiar destination for many solution providers, a favorite venue for conference organizers. But for one week early next year, it’s going to be a converging spot for two of the largest partner communities in the industry, as HP holds its Global Partner Conference in Sin City the same week as Cisco’s annual Partner Summit.

It’s not the first time the two giants have gone head-to-head, and this time lacks some of the drama of the first. In 2010, both companies were making headlines by splitting their longtime reseller agreement and agreeing to disagree as HP made inroads in Cisco’s networking turf, and Cisco’s data center computing dream of UCS started to take shape. With that drama as a backdrop, and much fueling from a press corp that loves anything remotely juicy, John Chambers took to the stage in San Francisco as (then HP CEO) Mark Hurd did in Las Vegas.

The two conferences were not only the same week, but seemed to the outsider’s eye to be engineered to be scheduled minute-for-minute, as if a test of loyalties for solution providers who work with both companies. More than one partner would spend a day or so with one first, and then catch a short flight from Vegas to San Fran (or vice versa) to spend some time with the other.

On stage, the rhetoric was pointed. Borrowing from the traditional airline schtick, execs from both companies reminded partners that “we know you have a choice of partner conferences to attend,” and that they were glad to have their attention. But executives from both side touched on the rivalry. For Chambers, it was about (as it always is) network centricity, and seeing the next transition before it happens. For Hurd, the message was simple: only HP can do all the things that HP does, as well as HP does, making it (in Hurd’s admittedly biased estimation) the right company with which to partner across the board.

Fast forward to next year – the week of March 24 to 27 in particular – and things aren’t quite as hot. HP’s networking business continues to gain respect and some share, without displacing the 800 pound gorilla. And UCS continues to grow, but has not done irreparable harm to HP’s data center server business. While they are still rivals, the two giants are less focused on each other than they were four years ago. HP has gone through a pair of CEOs since Hurd, with current CEO Meg Whitman leading a long-term strategy to repair the damage done by her immediate predecessor. Cisco, meanwhile, has gone through its share of undulations, and has ultimately decided it’s better to be more focused that it was before. So there’s not likely to be quite as much verbal volleying as last time around.

In another key change – one sure to be appreciated by both solution providers and the channel press that otherwise have to sprint back and forth between events – the two events are much less head to head than they were in 2010. HP’s Global Partner Conference starts things off Monday, both are in full swing on Tuesday, but then partners can stroll on down to the Venetian for Wednesday and Thursday, and the rest of Cisco Partner Summit. Depending on how sessions are scheduled, a partner might be able to attend the main “meat” of both conferences without missing much from either side.

But one thing’s for sure: with two of the biggest partner events of the year happening in the same city on the same week, one might want to book flights and hotel rooms early.