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HP is looking to grow its share in the networking market by reducing the complexity associated with network rollouts.

Last month HP introduced its ProCurve Network Adaptive Edge Architecture as a framework designed to deliver control at the edge of a network. The architecture is designed to make it simpler for users to manage complex applications, such as mobility, security and voice/data convergence.

Historically, the brains of networks have been located at the network core. But deferring security and traffic management to the core increases cost and complexity, HP argues. The approach also leaves networks exposed to security risks between the points where access is made and where authorisation is granted.

A better, and more scalable approach is to build intelligence into access devices, leaving core networks to manage aggregation and traffic routing.

At a pan-European conference in Barcelona this week, HP execs outlined their approach to the networking market.

HP, a strong number three in the switching market behind Cisco and 3Com, is targeting enterprise users for further growth. Its strategy is solid, if somewhat unexciting, just like its products.

John McHugh, VP and general manager of HP's ProCurve Networking Business, told journalists HP was trying to remove the black-arts reputation still sometimes associated with networking.

In moving from the "esoteric to the mainstream" HP is taking a similar approach to networking it previously applied to printing.

That means making networking more reliable and secure. It doesn't mean, however, that HP wants to see networking commoditised.

Perish the thought.

McHugh told us that technological advancements will prevent commoditisation of the market for the near future, despite the entry of Dell into the networking market.

Here HP is talking about innovations such as iSCSI, which might allow storage to be run over Gigabit Ethernet rather than more complex Fibre-Channel networks, roaming between wireless LAN and telco networks (still three-five years away, according to McHugh) and Gigabit Ethernet to the desktop.

But few applications need Gigabit Ethernet to the desktop and HP's enthusiasm for iSCSI is cautious.

"The softness in the storage market has dampened enthusiasm in iSCSI," McHugh told us.

Softly, softly catchee BOFH

That answer is symptomatic of HP's conservative approach to the networking market, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

HP doesn't plan to introduce 802.11g wireless networking kit until the high-speed 2.4GHz wireless networking standard is ratified this summer, thus sparing customers the potential grief non-compliant kit may bring. HP isn't firmly committed to either 802.11g or 5Ghz 802.11a kit for the future of wireless LAN deployments, McHugh told us.

On wireless LAN security, HP is a firm backer of 802.1X port-based access controls. The 802.1X standard provides for dynamic changes in WEP keys.

Many vendors back VPNs as a means to keep secure wireless data. Techies running a demo on wireless networking security argued that VPNs introduce a performance overhead. Using 802.1X will guard similarly against the perils of war driving while making it easier for users to use the same log-in system (based on Radius servers) when connecting via fixed or wireless networks, they argued.

HP is extending its architecture, which is similar in many respects to Cisco's AVVID framework, via firmware upgrades to its networking kit.

For example, earlier this month provided a software upgrade to its ProCurve Switch 5300xl series to introduce support for access control lists (ACLs). This allows access control between different VPNs via Layer 3 and 4 filtering. Previously HP introduced Layer 3 (routing) firmware upgrades to its Layer 2 switches, such as the ProCurve 4100, 2650 and 6108 series.

These are useful, though hardly exciting, innovations. Much like HP's networking strategy in general then. ®

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