Is Cisco Systems' dominance of the enterprise networking market about to see its first true test in more than a decade? It seems likely now that Hewlett Packard, IBM and others are turning to rival switching platforms or their own home-grown systems in the wake of Cisco's entry into the server market.
Of all the players that have so far lined up, though, HP seems to be the biggest threat by virtue of its multi-billion dollar market position and the fact that it already has a working network infrastructure at its disposal.
That HP sees an opportunity is evidenced by the greater attention it's been paying to its networking strengths lately, particularly in bridging its internal switching and routing platforms to external carrier and wireless infrastructure.
Take the recent upgrades to the ProCurve line. The company has added four new 10/100 switches to the 3500 series, all aimed at simplifying management and enhancing application performance on the edge. The units come in 24- and 48-port versions, with PoE or without, with an eye toward services like IP telephony that don't require full Gbps throughput.
HP is also moving to smooth the transition between wired and wireless connectivity with a new line of converged devices. The new ProCurve MSM wireless access point/Ethernet switch offers the ability to centralize multiple IP services onto any standard electrical outlet. The MSM317 offers 802.11b/g wireless service with a 4-port Ethernet switch, while the MSM765 unit offers integrated versions of the ProCurve 5400 and 8200 switches. Both units are governed by the ProCurve MultiService mobility controller providing single-point of control for all ProCurve wireless access points.
Wide area services are also key to HP's strategy. The company has certified Riverbed Technology's RiOS operating system to run under the ProCurve ONE Services zl blade module, which allows the Steelhead WAN optimization appliance to work directly with the 5400zl and 8200zl switches. The move lets you consolidate WAN and other applications onto a single platform to cut down on networking hardware.
All of this activity is certainly drawing Cisco's attention. At a recent partner summit, Chairman Rob Lloyd and CEO John Chambers both singled out HP as a singular threat, with Chambers noting that "we've never had a $110 billion competitor before," according to CRN.
With close to 70 percent of the market already under wraps, Cisco has a lot of leverage to keeping rivals at bay. Even if HP doubles its market share over the next year to 10 percent, that still leaves Cisco solidly in control of enterprise networking.
And while it would not be unusual for a company with that kind of dominance to become complacent (as GM can attest), Cisco shows no sign of letting things like R&D slip, as evidenced by the new Unified Computing System (UCS) and the Nexus 7000.
However, networking is the highest growth area in the data center these days, so it's likely that HP and others could see healthy gains without taking much wind out of Cisco's sails.
Either way, it's going to be interesting to watch.