HP's ProCurve exec talks business directions

Customers will support ProCurve with or without HP, McHugh says

Hewlett-Packard's ProCurve LAN switch business is second only to Cisco in revenue and port shipments, outperforming venerable competitors such as 3Com, Nortel, Extreme Networks and Foundry Networks. John McHugh, vice president and general manager of ProCurve Networking by HP, recently spoke with Phil Hochmuth about where ProCurve stands inside the larger HP organization, and other issues facing the group. The following is an edited version of their conversation.

What is the relationship between ProCurve and HP?

I've been very aggressive and consistent about positioning the business as an open market networking business, as opposed to being a network accessories business within HP. As you look at the personality of ProCurve, as you look at the way we do or do not dovetail with the rest of HP, it really comes back to that concerted commitment, that when we go to market . . . and position products, first and foremost, we are accountable to open-market competitive standards set by the Ciscos, Nortels, 3Coms of the world. As a result, certainly in the last five years, that's driven us towards doing things that are open market, and independently of HP. Not that there's anything wrong with being part of HP. But that is what has asserted our level competitiveness and success in the market.

Speaking very candidly, [our relationship with HP] is very positive . . .The message to my organization was, HP will find us very compelling and will be one of our best advocates and one of our best customers when we earn that. The first thing we need to do is earn that credibility and we need to win in the market, and HP will follow. And we are definitely seeing that. We are becoming a more relevant supplier to HP, who is, in fairness, a unique customer in the market.

Given the success you've seen, what's to keep the ProCurve group from breaking away from HP?

It would be naive of me to say that that hasn't been something that hasn't been thought about. I would put two perspectives out there. In the way we're running this business, we really want that to be a non-issue. The business really does run and survive, and is based on an investment inside this company, which makes it look like a very stand-alone entity. That's been a part of our success; we haven't looked to other parts of HP. We haven't generated market success based on capabilities, which we didn't own, ore were not consistent with what our competitors have to provide out there.

The second point is that . . .being No. 2 in this industry, and the one company growing faster than the market, we believe that discussion [of breaking off from HP] becomes less relevant. The interesting factor is that the business becomes far more relevant to HP as it goes forward. And that's exactly what we're seeing.

How could there be better cooperation between HP and the ProCurve business?

I would love HP to get the networking bug as completely as I have it. I would love the world to see HP as an IT company, as an IT solutions and services provider, that really sees how critical it is to have a competitive, open-market networking company in its portfolio. There really is no example of that. The closest may have been where Digital Equipment was, way back in the in the mid-1980s, when [CEO] Ken Olson talked about how the network and system architectures evolve together. Realistically, IBM never took advantage of their network business; they were really trying to play networking as accessory to an IT solution sale. And that just doesn't' work. If [as an IT company] you're going to make use of a networking company as an asset, you have to realize that your networking company has to be relevant to the open market as a [stand-alone] business.

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