The penultimate presentation at Wireless Field Day 2 was from HP. Their wireless unit had presented at Wireless Field Day 1 and had a 2-hour slot at WFD2. We arrived at the soon-to-be demolished HP Executive Briefing center in Cupertino and paid our final respects to the Dirty Chai Machine:
First off, I want you to read their presentation from WFD1. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Back? Good. For starters, the wireless in the EBC wasn’t working for everyone. Normally, I’d have just plugged in the provided 15-foot Ethernet cord, but as I was running on my new Macbook Air, I was sans-Ethernet for the first time. We finally got the Internet going by foregoing the redirect to the captive portal and just going there ourselves, so I wasn’t overly concerned. Rob Haviland then got us started with an overview of HP’s wireless product line:
With all due respect to Rob, I think he kind of missed the mark here. I’ve been told by many people that Rob is a very bright guy from the 3Com/H3C acquisition and did a great job getting technical at Interop. However, I think the presentation here for HP Wireless was aimed at the CxO level and not for the wireless nerds. As you watch the video, you’ll hear Rocky Gregory chime in just a bit into the presentation that talking to us about the importance of a wireless site survey is a bit like preaching to the choir. We do this stuff all day every day in our own jobs. We not only know the importance of things like this, we evangelize it to people as well. It reminded me a bit of the WFD1 Cisco presentation over CleanAir that Jennifer Huber had given several time to her customers. In fact, I even asked during the presentation if these “new” access points Rob was talking about were different from the ones we saw previously. With one exception, they weren’t. The new AP is the 466-R, an outdoor version of the MSM466. It’s a ruggedized AP designed to be hung almost anywhere, and it even includes a heater! Of course, if you want the heater to work, you need to be sure to provide 802.3at power or an external power supply. Unlike the Cisco Aironet bridges that I’m familiar with implementing, the MSM466-R uses an RJ-45 connection to hook it into the network as opposed to the coax-to-power-injector method. I’m not entirely sure I’m comfortable running at Cat-5 cable out of my building and plugging it directly into the AP. I’d much rather see some kind of midspan device sitting inline to provide a handoff. That’s just me, though. The MSM466-R also weighs about a third of what comparable outdoor APs weigh, according to Jennifer, who has put some of these in for her customers. We also spent some time talking about advanced features like band steering your clients away from 2.4 GHz to 5 GHz and the impact that can have on latency in voice calls. It appears to take 200 msec for a client to be steered toward the 5 GHz radio on an AP according to HP, which can cause hiccups and delay in the voice call. Sam Clements wondered if the values for those timers were configurable at all, but according to HP they are not. This could be a huge impact for clients on VoIP calls on a laptop that is roaming across a wireless campus. I think I’m going to have to spend a little more time digging into this.
After a 10 minute break, we jumped into the new controller that HP is offering, the MSM720 mobility controller. This unit is marketed toward the lower end of the product line and is targeted to the market of less that 40 APs. In fact, 40 is the most it will hold. There is a premium version of the MSM720 that doesn’t hold any more APs but does turn on some additional capabilities like high availability and real-time location services. This generated a big discussion about licensing models and the desire for customers to absorb additional costs to find out they gained significant features. I work in a vertical where people are very price-sensitive. But I also understand that many of the features that we use to market products to people evaporate when you start reducing the “licensed features”. I’d rather see the most commonly requested features bundled into a single “base” license and they negotiate price points after we’ve agreed on features. That is a much easier sell that demonstrating all the cool things a product can do, only to have to explain to the customer after the fact, “Well, there is this other license you need…”. All companies are guilty of this kind of transgression, so I’m not just singling out HP here. They just happened to be at the watershed moment for our outpouring of distaste over licensing. The MSM720 is a fine product for the small to medium business that wants the centralized control capability of a controller without breaking the bank. I’m just not sure how many of them I would end up selling in the long run.
HP’s Oprah Moment was a 2.4 GHz wireless mouse with micro receiver and a pen and paper set.
If you’d like to learn more about HP Wireless, you can check out their website at http://www.hp.com/united-states/wireless/index.html. You can also follow along with all of their network updates on Twitter as @HP_Networking.
This may have been the hardest Tech Field Day review I’ve written. I feel that HP missed an opportunity here to help show us what makes them so different in wireless. We got a short overview of technologies we’re already familiar with and two new products targeted at very specific market segments. The most technical part of our discussion was a block diagram of the AP layout. There wasn’t any new technology from HP apart from a ruggedized AP. No talk of Hotspot 2.0 or 802.11ac Gigabit wireless. In retrospect, after getting to hear from people like Matthew Gast and Victor Shtrom, it was a bit of let down. I feel like this was a canned presentation designed to be pitched to decision makers and not technical people. We want nerd knobs and excruciating detail. From what I’ve heard of Rob Haviland, he can give that kind of presentation. So, was this a case of of being ill prepared? Or missing the target audience? I’m also wondering if the recent upper level concerns inside of HP have caused distraction for the various business units. The networking people shouldn’t have really been affected by the PSG and Autonomy dealings but who knows at this point. Is the Mark Hurd R&D decision finally starting to trickle in? Maybe HP believes that their current AP lineup is rock solid and will keep on trucking for the foreseeable future? Right now, I don’t have answers to these questions and I don’t know where to find them. Until I do find those answers though, I’m going to keep a wary eye on HP Wireless. They’ve shown in the past that they have the capability to impress and innovate. Now they have to prove it to me again.
Wireless Field Day 2 Disclaimer
HP was a sponsor of Wireless Field Day 2. As such, they were responsible for covering a portion of my travel and lodging expenses while attending Wireless Field Day 2. In addition, they provided me with a 2.4 GHz wireless mouse with micro receiver and a pen and paper set. They did not ask for, nor where they promised any kind of consideration in the writing of this review/analysis. The opinions and analysis provided within are my own and any errors or omissions are mine and mine alone.
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Watching the streaming presentation, I felt sorry for HP. It was hard to watch. Rob could have done a little homework on previous WFDs and saved everyone a bunch of time and energy. Rob could have nipped the licensing discussion at the bud in a matter of minutes (HP’s licensing is really cut and dry compared to some others), but he waffled and got trounced. The whole presentation was symbolic of HP on the whole right now though- very little creativity or enthusiasm in what they are doing. It’s sad because their MSM wireless products are respectable and could be great if nurtured by the right visionaries.