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Could Hewlett-Packard’s ProCurve networking line finally be getting some respect?

While other areas of technology are limping along financially, sales of ProCurve products are growing by leaps and bounds. In HP’s third fiscal quarter of 2008, which ended in July, ProCurve revenue and port growth expanded to more than twice the rate of the networking market, according to market research firm Dell’Oro Group.

The firm noted that HP ProCurve grew worldwide switched Layer 2 through Layer 7 port shipments by 25.8 percent over the third quarter of 2007 – that compares to the industry growth rate of 6.6 percent for the same period. In addition, worldwide revenue increased 14.1 percent, compared to the industry average of 4.5 percent.

Networking leader Cisco Systems, in contrast, ended the same calendar quarter (its fourth fiscal quarter) with a year-over-year increase of 8 percent in its routing revenue and a 5 percent year-over-year increase in its switching revenue.

Even with impressive numbers, ProCurve’s growth is akin to a puppy chasing a semi. Cisco enjoys 77 percent market share in the networking space, making HP’s 7 percent share seem paltry by comparison. Still, HP does enjoy the distinction of being the No. 2 player.

Kevin Kabat, director of channel sales and marketing for HP ProCurve, noted that while the company is getting more aggressive in its push to be known in the networking space, it probably will never achieve Cisco’s astronomical market share.

“The world has a Cisco,” Kabat said. “I would never take away anything from them. And we don’t want to be another Cisco.”

Rather, Kabat would like its channel partners to position ProCurve as part of a soup-to-nuts solution through its integration with the entire HP product line.

“We have a strong alternative [to our competitors] and … we provide a solution that no other can, from desktop to data center to security to mobility,” he said.

Ken Presti, principal analyst at Presti Consulting, believes HP’s end-to-end capabilities have been a huge advantage for ProCurve and, by extension, its reseller base.

“Channel partners can sit down with their customers and [include ProCurve] and that would lend more credibility to the solution. It carries more weight than pulling together different technologies from different vendors,” Presti said.

Jamie Vost, vice president of sales at Novanis, a solution provider based in Springfield, Ill., that sells both HP ProCurve and Cisco products, believes ProCurve is simply a better deal for his customers.

“We feel, generally speaking, that the HP value proposition is strong compared with other network providers when you look at the total cost of ownership,” which includes warranty, post-sales support, upgrade capabilities and integration with other technologies, he said. “We generally lead with ProCurve solutions.”

ProCurve’s higher profile within HP – and, subsequently, its channel partners – is thanks largely in part to CEO Mark Hurd, who recognized ProCurve’s potential in the networking space, and senior vice president and general manager Marius Haas, who made it a goal to grow ProCurve sales. “That has created a lot of awareness within and outside of HP,” Kabat said.

“I think mainly HP has developed higher level of understanding of the importance of networking – if you look at ProCurve as an extension of the HP brand, it makes a lot of sense,” Presti said.

ProCurve’s influence on the channel, Presti believes, is equally due to its partner program, which has been finessed over the past few years.

“ProCurve has traveled pretty far down that path already. I think they have a good understanding of what it takes to survive in the channel and leverage the brand awareness, and they are serious about getting the wood behind the arrow,” he said.