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HP Networking – The Vision(As I Understand It)

As part of Tech Field Day 5, I got a chance to sit in on multiple briefings from HP. I was very interested to hear about their particular product set and how it fits within the data center. The following are my thoughts on HP’s networking solution.

According to HP, one of the biggest problems facing their customers is that of “IT sprawl”. As a result of this sprawl, silos are created. The servers end up in a server group. Storage ends up in a storage group. The same goes for the network, database, security, and so forth. Silos, in the opinion of HP are a bad thing. They cause you to lose sight of the bigger picture.

I don’t know that I agree with that. Silos in and of themselves are not a bad thing. It takes a fairly high degree of technical ability to oversee just one of those previously mentioned areas in a decent sized enterprise network. I fail to see how you could have anything but silos. I know there are people out in the industry who think architects should not have a specialty and should be able to design anything at a high level. I call those people crazy. As you go further down the chain into engineering, support, and implementation/deployment, the level of technical abilities in a specific area becomes really important. It isn’t realistic to have people functioning within multiple silos unless the level of technical proficiency you require isn’t that great. As for the big picture, that’s what management is for. My job is to ensure the network is running. That’s a tough enough job within itself. Perhaps I misunderstood what HP was trying to say. The only cross-silo entity I want to see is the help desk. I have been in environments where you took the various tiers and put them all together under one common manager. Instead of putting all the network people together, you put the support people together, the implementations people together, the engineers together, the architects together, etc. The problem with this approach is that I always needed to interact more with people in my networking silo than I did with people who were in the same tier as me, but may have been storage, server, or security focused. I worked more with people outside of my group than with people within my group. Perhaps other people have different experiences, but from an efficiency standpoint, I favor the silo.

That was just within the first 10 minutes of the HP pitch. I wouldn’t expect to hear much of a difference if another large vendor was presenting. Sprawl is a HUGE problem that things like virtualization have dealt with. What is it about HP that makes them different? Why should you choose them over another vendor when it comes to a networking solution? In HP’s view, there are 3 reasons why.

1. Strong IP in all domains of IT. – You can’t really argue this one. HP has products in just about every major sector of IT. They believe that the only way to present an overall working solution to the customer is to have a fundamental understanding of all things IT. They have a LOT of smart people working for them(as do ALL major vendors) and those people produce a variety of products that make money as well as make our lives easier from a technology standpoint. Check out this link for some proof of that: http://h30507.www3.hp.com/t5/Data-Central/HP-Labs-Releases-2010-Annual-Research-Report/ba-p/88265

2. Open integration – HP continually hammered away at this point throughout their presentations. Everything they do, they want it to be open and standards based. This was their attempt to contrast themselves with Cisco, whom people constantly harp on for all of their proprietary protocols and technology. The problem with preaching the “standards” and “openness” mantra is that you better go to great lengths to ensure there isn’t a hint of anything proprietary in any of your hardware or software. For the most part, HP can make that claim. However, if you dig deep enough, you’ll find that HP has proprietary implementations of certain things. I don’t necessarily think it is that bad of a sin to have some proprietary element to your architecture. Key word being “some”. Juniper is doing it. Cisco, of course, does it. Brocade does it. They all pretty much do it in one form or another. I think you can reach a point to where you are so “standards” focused that you end up like the United Nations. It’s a great idea, but let’s face it. Nobody goes to the UN expecting them to do anything in an expedient and efficient manner.

I will say this about HP’s desire for open integration. They want to meet the needs of their  customers in as many areas as reasonably possible. For example, in the realm of storage, HP can integrate with Fiber Channel, iSCSI, and FCoE. In short, they want to give you options.

3. Services approach – Basically, wherever you want to do business, HP will work with you. If you want everything on your local premises, they’ll help out. Outsourced environment? They can help with that too. Even if you are looking at cloud providers, HP can assist with that.

During HP’s presentation, their head of marketing for networking, Jay Mellman, said some things that interested me greatly. Jay said the following, and I am paraphrasing:

“HP has to produce first class technology and HP will never get away with taking second hand infrastructure and slapping it together. Other business lines(server,storage) are counting on HP networking to produce a quality product or they’ll get the product elsewhere.”

Maybe I misunderstood, but the impression I got was that if the networking group produces slop, the other parts of the company won’t use it. In other words, it looks like they only eat their own dog food if it tastes good.

Jay had some more thoughts that he shared with us. He said that it is not about a gold plated network or 100% uptime anymore. As far as customers go, that’s a given. What it is about is the following:

“How do I deliver the right set of services to my customer at a given point in time with the right security at the right cost and then tomorrow morning flip it to a different set of services?”

HP wants to be number 1 in networking. They lead in every other one of their sectors like servers and laptops. They have the marketing know-how and a growing number of people out there who are getting tired of paying Cisco’s premium. The question is, do they have the right technology to pull it off? I’ll leave you with that question to ponder. My next post will focus less on the philosophical marketing stuff and more on the technology that HP is bringing to the table. Stay tuned……

*****Disclaimer: As a delegate for Tech Field Day 5, my flight, food, lodging and transportation expenses were paid for in part by HP. I am under no obligation to write anything regarding HP either good or bad. Anything I choose to write are my opinions, and mine alone. **********

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