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This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala's blog.

Earlier this month HP quietly announced the end-of-sale for the VCX IP PBX that was part of its portfolio from the acquisition of 3Com. The end-of-sale date is expected to be December 2012 and puts to rest any speculation that HP might try and revive that product and move into the VoIP/UC space.

The company announced it would support existing customers for the next five years, but the product is, for all intents and purposes, walking the “Green Mile” to death row.

From a personal standpoint, it’s sad to see this product get put out to pasture. Although Cisco, Microsoft and Avaya take most of the VoIP/UC headlines today, it was 3Com that was one of the early pioneers in the space. The 3Com NBX was an unbelievable product in its day. Great quality, easy to set up and helped legitimize VoIP. However, 3Com had run into some financial struggles and then CEO Bruce Claflin chose to sell off Commworks but kept the Commworks soft switch to be an enterprise-class IP PBX, which eventually became VCX.

I remember being involved with a number of early VCX deployments, and customers and resellers used to rave about the quality of this product. Remember back then, most of the IP products available from the likes of Avaya, Nortel, Cisco and Shoreline (now ShoreTel) were in the very early stages of their evolution, so quality and stability varied greatly from product to product. This is one of the things that made VCX and NBX so special. They were some of the most mature products in a sea of immature products, and were a cut above most of the field.

However, times changed and 3Com continued to struggle, couldn’t invest in the product and the rest, as they say, is history. Cisco ran away with the majority of IP business and the legacy vendors either went away or caught up.

So this brings us to the here and now and raises the question: was this the best move for HP to make? It should be noted that HP, even early on, had indicated that the VoIP / UC was not part of its roadmap, so this wasn’t a huge surprise. The main reasons that I feel HP is doing the right thing are as follows:

  • Lack of VoIP/UC channel. As good as VCX was, HP doesn’t really have a channel that sells this stuff. The VCX channel had shrunk over the years and wasn’t enough to justify building programs around VoIP and UC required to grow the business.
  • Evolution of VoIP to UC. VCX is really a VoIP product and the market has rapidly shifted to UC. To stay current, HP would need to invest in a video product (like Halo?!), presence, etc. HP’s been struggling to get all of its network products rationalized post 3Com. I can’t see them taking on building a UC suite.
  • Partner conflict. HP’s at the epicenter of the “ABC” (anything but Cisco) market and has strong UC partnerships with Microsoft, Avaya and ShoreTel. Investing in VCX and creating a competitive product would alienate most of those partners and would create significantly different dynamics with the respective relationships.

Now, I asked whether putting a bullet in VCX was the right thing to do, but the bigger question is whether HP should be in UC or not. As much as I liked VCX, I admit it was old and outdated, so sun setting it did make sense. However, I do think HP’s wasting an opportunity not having a robust UC product line.

Anyone following the market knows that HP’s obsessed with competing with Cisco and one of the big advantages Cisco brings to the table is the ability to offer a complete UC/network solution. Does this matter? Well, not to everyone, but ZK Research shows that about 20-25% of customers do care about a converged solution, so that part of the market is off the table for HP.

In my opinion, for HP to be the size they are and not have any kind of story in UC seems a bit odd. Years ago I thought they should have bought Mitel, which has great technology and needs to build a robust channel, where HP can help. Sure, this would create competition with the companies listed above, but it would have a strong product to compete with them.

So for now, I bid farewell to VCX and the great product it was.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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