Networking the least understood element of IT, says HP's Nick Watson

HP’s European networking chief Nick Watson blames complexity for lack of understanding of networking in cloud computing

A strong network may be the main stay of cloud computing, but its complexity has left it out in the cold when it comes to development.

This was the belief of Nick Watson, vice-president of networking in EMEA for HP, who said that, while servers and storage have transformed over recent years and adoption rates have been high, networking has remained at the back of the queue for attention during the cloud era.

“The reason is networking has always been the least understood element of IT,” he told Computer Weekly. 

“It has been an impediment for 30 years, leaving people thinking the network wasn’t significant and, in turn, making it lagging behind.”

“I absolutely believe the network should be considered the fundamental building block for cloud computing, as it cannot be just down to the datacentre. With the need for access wherever you are and the increasing trend of bringing your own device to work, the network has to be looked at as a priority.”

Watson himself has a long history in networking. Before starting at HP last May, he worked for 15 years at Cisco, in the global enterprise market and running the channel business in the UK.

watson said he moved to HP – which touts its “converged infrastructure” model, bringing together storage, servers and networking under one umbrella – because it offered exactly what his customers at Cisco had been asking for.

“I kept being asked by customers to simplify things, as it was becoming increasingly difficult with networking,” said Watson. 

“They wanted vendors building a single unit, something they were willing to stand behind, as everything at the back-end was converging. HP was a great bet.”

Cisco is going down this route, investing into its own server and storage products as part of its Unified Computing System (UCS) portfolio. However, Watson felt the company didn’t have the best range and was still fundamentally a networking company.

“HP is an IT company and has all the different elements needed for IT solutions,” Watson said. “Other silos, for want of a better word, were biased to one technology area, even if they were providing other technologies too.”

“What I was hearing from customers is they wanted to integrate their infrastructure and HP has the ingredients and the maturity to do this.”

The difficulty is Cisco is known as a networking company, whereas HP has a different reputation altogether.

“Part of the attraction was the opportunity to build up the networking business, as previously it had been relatively small, focusing on Procurve in the SMB space,” claimed Watson. 

“HP found the missing ingredient when it acquired 3COM. Many in the industry agreed it had lost its way, with large companies reticent in investing. The technology was still there but it did not have the financial backing or the go-to-market strategy. 

"Now we have found the key.”

Watson admitted prospective customers had a moment of disbelief when HP approached them about its networking portfolio. But he said that, by giving them the chance to prove the concept with its kit and see evidence of its performance, it was beginning to win users over.

Watson said he knew it would be a slow process, as no-one was interested in ripping and replacing network infrastructure.

“People can’t suddenly throw a network out,” said Watson. “Everyone has to take time to migrate from what they have to what they want to have. 

"Apps, including video, we have begun to take for granted, but something like Microsoft Lync will entirely change the environment and the network has to be able to work with that. You can’t do all that in one go.”

“Most networks evolve and are not designed from the ground up,” he added. 

“When they are continually added to, they are infrequently looked at from a lifecycle management perspective. When you set up a network, legacy errors occur and as a result people are reluctant to change the network.”

Watson has his work cut out for him, not only to build up the interest and reputation of networking, but to prove HP can cut it with the big guns in the industry.

“For 10 years there was no other option and the solid bet was Cisco,” said Watson.

“Now we are running proof of concepts to go beyond the PowerPoint and prove these solutions work for them.”

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