Hewlett-Packard, signalling what may be its ambition to become an end-to-end systems provider, will early next year introduce its first routing switch in a bid to create a full Ethernet LAN product set.
The company's Ethernet strategy, to be carried out through 1999, will build on HP's strength in workgroups and data centres.
This week, HP unveiled high-availability Windows NT Server solutions built with its NetServer line and its ProCurve switches. The switches can be interconnected in a mesh for load balancing and fail-over support.
HP officials said the company will unveil by March a Layer 3 switch chassis for enterprise LANs. Both 10/100Mbps and Gigabit Ethernet interfaces will be offered.
The platform will surpass the performance of HP's current ProCurve Switch 8000M and 1600M, Layer 2 switches, each of which is equipped with a 3.5Gbps switching fabric, officials said.
With products like the Layer 3 platform, HP plans to provide a full Ethernet product offering for enterprise LANs, said Mark Thompson, product marketing manager for HP's network hardware division. Doing so will take the company beyond the workgroup hub and switch markets in which HP has flourished.
The company will continue to compete on price with the Layer 3 platform, not match- ing start-ups' low-priced 10/100Mbps port but offering a significant discount from the major vendors, according to officials.
"This is becoming more of a mass market than a pricey niche market," Thompson said. "That's when our business takes off."
Analysts agreed that Layer 3 switches are bound to follow conventional switches on the path from expensive, specialised devices toward commodity products.
However, others said HP's aim to provide a full Ethernet line may take the company into uncharted waters.
With its server, client, and peripherals expertise, the company could become a system vendor like the IBM of decades past, said Sam Alunni, an analyst at Sterling Research. The values of this approach may be returning, he said.
"A system vendor can come in and sell you an application, along with a tuned OS, tuned networking equipment, and other pieces to make it run," Alunni said. "You avoid the piece-part integration."