Arik Hesseldahl

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HP Networking Head: "People Are Tired of Paying for Cisco"

Marius Haas doesn’t do small jobs. During his five-year stint as head of corporate strategy for Hewlett-Packard, he was the one who oversaw the massive acquisition of IT services firm EDS in 2008.

Now as head of HP Networking, he has a job that is no less daunting: Wrestling with none other than Cisco Systems, the powerful grandaddy of the networking business. HP’s networking unit, recently bolstered by its $2.7 billion acquisition of 3Com last year, caught some attention this week with an audacious promotion offering networking customers a 20 percent discount on certain products if they trade in old Cisco gear.

To be fair, HP has yet to take much business away from Cisco. As The Wall Street Journal noted, Cisco has so far held on to its 70 percent share of the enterprise Ethernet switching market in Q3, up from 67 percent a year ago, according to the research firm Infonetics. HP’s share was 11 percent, the same share that 3Com had before it was part of HP.

Still, it’s an interesting time to be trading barbs with Cisco, in part because it appears vulnerable given its uncertain market outlook when it reported earnings last month, but also because it’s eyeing some of HP’s home turf for expansion.

I met up with Haas at HP Headquarters in Palo Alto recently to talk about how the matchup with Cisco is shaping up, and what to expect from HP in 2011.

NewEnterprise: Marius, let’s start with the big question about the coming year. You were deeply involved with the EDS deal and several HP deals before that. Is there still an appetite for big deals in IT or at HP?

Marius Haas: “It’s not going to stop. The big are going to get bigger. The appetite for some of the niche technology players to get some funding so they can grow to a sufficient scale is not gone. Now it’s becoming clear that Cisco, Oracle, IBM and HP are all pretty much starting to build out their end-to-end stacks and I don’t see any stop to the deal-making. In order to get the kind of muscle you need to compete in this market you have to be pretty big and you have to be global.”

NE: So HP is not done doing deals?

MH: “No.”

NE: What kind of deals might we see?

MH: “I’ll give you a hint. Look at who our new CEO and Chairman [former SAP CEO Léo Apotheker] is. You can probably draw a conclusion that maybe we’ll continue to expand in the software arena, and then move up the stack. That’s a logical path he could be taking.

NE: Let’s talk about the competition, specifically Cisco–a networking company that’s going after the data center and IT. You run the networking division of an IT company. Talk to me about that dynamic.

MH: “We like the position we’re in. We have all the things you need in order to bring together and deliver a sort of holistic kind of cloud strategy for customers. It takes a lot of IP and we’re the only company on the planet that has it all. Servers, storage, networking, management software, services. And all the devices as well. No one else has that. And Cisco doesn’t have it. They will come from their position of strength which is networking, but they are going to have to partner to deliver the broader ecosystem. It’s easy to put on paper, but harder to deliver.

“They’re used to their network model with proprietary products. Customers are saying they don’t want proprietary stuff. They want something that’s standards-based, interoperable and at a much lower cost. Our offering is resonating. We don’t see the kind of slowness they are seeing. And the enterprise customers are telling us they no longer want a single-vendor-dominated networking market. They want competition for their business.”

NE: So where are you seeing demand?

MH: “Historically HP before we acquired 3Com was strong in the mid-market and in the edge of the enterprise. We were strong in the K-12, local government, hospitality and health care segments. Now we’re seeing broader momentum in the enterprise, especially from companies who are modernizing their environment and getting ready for the cloud. People are getting tired of paying a premium for Cisco. And you’ve got about $9 billion worth of gear from Cisco that is going end of life soon. Out of our top 1,000 enterprise accounts, 458 are doing proof of concept trials with us. People are now convinced we are that second horse in the race.”

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