Hewlett-Packard has launched two stackable switches that it claimed, will cut the cost of 10 Gig ports. The division has a new licence to promote itself outside the uber-HP brand, but the big push is to come later this year, when an "edge fabric" based on Riverstone technology will bring 10 Gig into HP's mid-tier networking boxes and - for some networks - make the core obsolete.

There are two ProCurve 3400 switches, a £1943 version with 24 Gigabit ports and a £3682 version with 48 Gigabit ports. Both have two 10 Gigabit ports which can act as uplinks or stacking ports. The 10 Gig ports are in a separate module, either a cheap (£922) copper-only version with two 802.1ak copper ports that use CX4 Infiniband cables for connections less than 50 feet, or a more expensive "Media Flex" module at £1383, which can hold copper transceivers or fibre to go beyond 300 feet. The 10 Gig fibre transceivers start at £2049 each.

If the switches are stacked in a closet, CX4 connections will be enough to link within the stack, and users only need two long-distance fibre links to connect to the core: HP has a copper-to-optical module for these links.

Getting to number two in the switch market has been HP's big ambition for some time now, and as it gets there by stages, the company has to be less and less selective of the figures it chooses. With a 13 percent share of the managed Ethernet ports sold in Europe, it has finally overtaken 3Com's 12 percent, according to figures from Dell'Oro. In the US, with nine percent, it is already ahead of Nortel (six percent) and 3Com (four percent). It is still number two in revenue, but not so convincingly, as its ports tend to be cheaper, explained Jon Weatherall, UK manager for HP ProCurve.

Being number two is part of the reason why HP has allowed its ProCurve division to break away from rigid conformity to the HP brand (you may have noticed that "ProCurve Networking" features larger than "HP" on its adverts). "At number two, we can accelerate growth by getting more brand identity," said Weatherall.

"We were disappearing into HP's wallpaper," said HP's worldwide vice president of ProCurve, John McHugh. "We'd reached number two in the market, but our brand awareness had not moved." Reading between the lines, it was a struggle getting it HP's CEO, Carly Fiorina to agree to let ProCurve step outside HP's unified message.

For pricing, HP compares the new products with switches from 3Com, Cisco, Foundry and Extreme, and to no-one's great surprise, HP comes out on top in every case. The basic 48 port switch works out at $144 per Gig port, £160 with 10 Gig copper uplinks and $283 with 10 Gig fibre uplinks.

As with virtually every other LAN provider, the big gap in HP's portfolio is in the middle tier: it has 10 Gig ports on its core switches, and 10 Gig uplinks for its edge switches, but the 5300 mini-chassis switches (which we review here) that come between do not have 10 Gigabit links, and won't until a technology deal with Riverstone lets HP deliver an "edge fabric" that Weatherall says is revolutionary - allowing many users to do away with core switches. "Other switch vendors upgrade the middle tier by moving core switches outwards," he said. "We have a different approach on the way."

Phil Hochmuth, Network World, contributed to this report.