For years, it's been Cisco Systems versus the field in the network infrastructure race. But ProCurve, Hewlett-Packard's networking equipment arm, has made inroads since 2000, outpacing the industry in growth and closing the Cisco gap. Gartner pushed ProCurve from challenger's quadrant to leader's quadrant in the market recently. John McHugh, vice-president and GM of the division, spoke about the state of the networking market, how the industry dodges economic downturns and the 50-year trend in business that we're haflway through.Like Cisco CEO John Chambers, McHugh sees nothing to fear in the spectre of a recession as far as ProCurve's business goes. He says the company is tracking toward its revenue targets, and he's not surprised. "One of the overlying macro effects right now is a lot of talk about economic conditions and economic softness," McHugh says. "I think one of the states of the enterprise networking equipment space is one of consistency and very structured, very methodical sort of growth. Most customers don't really buy on a whim. They don't buy based on opportunistic buying motions. It's very project-, very strategic- and long-term-oriented." Other than the downturns that bracketed the Year 2000, McHugh says, networking equipment market growth has consistently been in the eight to 12 per cent range year over year.
McHugh obviously sees some vindication in Gartner's recent recognition, pushing ProCurve into its leader's quadrant. "It's been frankly a long time we've been in the challenger quadrant, the only business in the challenger quadrant for the last two cycles," McHugh says. The push-back from Gartner, according to McHugh: Great ability to execute, but not enough vision. Last year, ProCurve's Adaptive Network strategy changed that, McHugh says. And he says it's also rewarded ProCurve with more classic enterprise and Fortune 500 customers.
That strategy comes from work ProCurve was doing around the turn of the century, McHugh says. "What we were doing was laying the foundation for the virtualization of networking that is happening today," he says. "What we said five years ago was, we believe instead of these Layer 2, 10/100 networks that customers are using for most applications, we believe the future of networking is a much more intelligent, much more processing oriented networking infrastructure, rather than (just) switching and forwarding." Trends toward content filtering, mobility, firewalling, access management, convergence, applications acceleration weren't going to be best-served by faster switching, but more intelligent networks "able to do things like look at the traffic on a per-flow basis right at the edge of the network, not at the core, not with a bunch of appliances racked up in one spot."
Customers designing networks have to fundamentally change the way they think about their networks, he says. It's not a high-powered convergence engine; it's a processing engine, an extension of the data centre and applications space. It's the continuing evolution of the information-driven organization, he says. "This is what we believe is a 50-year trend going back to 1980 and before, of people taking hard copy intellectual property, customer lists, financial records, patents and everything else, and taking them from a hard copy world, a physically isolated world, to an integrated electronic world," McHugh says. "We're really only about halfway through that maturation process or that transformation. And one of the most fundamental things that's going to happen in the technology industry over the next 20 years is finishing that evolution to really get the maximum benefit around what we've started."