HP takes control to the edge

Authenticate at every port, and the network is better controlled, says Hewlett-Packard

Hewlett-Packard has outlined the direction of its ProCurve switch family, with a press and partner demonstration in Barcelona. With no new products in the package, the blitz majored on the company's recently introduced "Edge" architecture, which emphasises intelligence at the edge of the network. HP's Edge message is that networks are becoming more complex thanks to VPNs, increased remote access and wireless LANs. They could also do a lot more for their owners, by carrying voice traffic and supporting mobility better. But they can only do this if intelligence and authentication is carried right to the edge of the network, at the port, using the 802.1x. standard. "During the years from 1996 to 2000, the cost of capital was low, and return on investment was not foremost in people's minds," said John McHugh, vice president and general manager of HP's Procurve networking business. During this time, users were happy to move from shared to switched ports, from 10Mbit/s to 100Mbit/s and from Layer 2 switches to Layer 3 switches, sometimes without gaining huge benefits. In more straitened times, users will be less keen to buy features that they cannot use and which do not give them any immediate return on investment. HP's demonstrations showed how 802.1x on its switch range can support mobility, security and voice/data convergence. The market share in revenue for Gigabit Ethernet is expected to become greater than that for 10/100 switches, and Layer 3 switches will grow to 35 percent of the market. To sell these kind of products to users requires practical justification for investment. HP reasons that it needs to sell applications, and an architecture that makes them easier to implement. HP is still growing in the market, having moved into third place in Europe, ahead of Nortel but still behind 3Com and Cisco. Behind its Edge message is a plea to be taken seriously at the enterprise level, and a pitch based on "value for money." It's a message that is hard to make "exciting" in the way a new technology pitch can be, and it is one that is open for other vendors to make. Pragmatism is not sexy, but it may be what the market wants now.

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