HP expands networking line with four new series of switches

ProCurve unit looks to compete more broadly against Cisco

Hewlett-Packard Co.'s ProCurve networking unit today announced a set of 14 switches and related products that broaden its market portfolio while providing features such as wirespeed performance and integrated Gigabit Power over Ethernet capabilities.

The products being rolled out include four new switch families and a 10 Gigabit Ethernet module for HP's existing ProCurve 8100 interconnect fabric switch. Two of the new offerings, the ProCurve 5400 and 3500 series, use the fourth generation of an internally developed integrated circuit called ProVision that integrates multiple functions on a single chip for greater speed and lower costs, said Darla Sommerville, vice president of the Americas region at the ProCurve unit.

For example, the ProVision chip provides wirespeed policy-enforcement capabilities that let network administrators control access and traffic flow in order to protect against security threats without affecting overall network performance, according to HP.

HP also announced the 4200 series, a chassis-based line that the company said combines the performance and flexibility of modular switches with the cost-effectiveness of stackable devices.

The fourth new switch, the 6200, can be used to aggregate network-edge switches through 24 Gigabit Ethernet ports and an optional four-port 10 Gigabit Ethernet module, HP said.

Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., tested four of the 4200 series switches for two months and has decided to gradually replace its existing HP 4100 devices with the newer machines as the existing ones are retired, said IT director Scott Bradley. The 4200 has more speed and can provide capacity to handle up to 256 virtual LANs, up from 30 on the 4100, Bradley said.

Cornell has installed nearly 600 ProCurve switches since 2001, according to Bradley, who said the biggest benefit of using the HP technology has been its low cost, especially when compared with gear from switch market leader Cisco Systems Inc.

HP is second in the global switching market behind Cisco, said Rob Whiteley, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. Whiteley said that in some cases, HP's switches can be one-half or even one-third the cost of Cisco's.

HP also offers the added benefit of a lifetime warranty on its switches, compared with annual maintenance fees charged by Cisco that can be equivalent to 35% of the capital equipment cost. "Maintenance is known as 'the Cisco tax,'" Whiteley said.

HP said the 5400 and 3500 switches will have a street price of $112 to $128 per port, compared with $178 to $240 per port for Cisco's rival Catalyst 4500 and 3750 switches.

Whiteley confirmed that those comparisons are accurate, based on the pricing information that Forrester has seen. However, HP's switching unit is still "tiny" in comparison with Cisco's, he said, adding that ProCurve doesn't offer users a well-rounded set of networking products for enterprise customers. HP lacks a full range of routers, IP telephony products, wireless products and load-balancing tools, Whiteley said. Customers might consider HP switches as a low-cost alternative to Cisco, he said.

HP said six 4200 models will ship in March, with prices starting at $1,499. The company plans to ship two versions of both the 5400 and 3500 in April, with starting prices of $2,299 and $3,999, respectively. Two more 5400s are due in the summer, as is the 6200, which will start at $7,499.

The 10 Gigabit Ethernet module for the ProCurve 8100 switches is due next month, with a starting price of $7,999.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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