More switches, expanded capabilities announced for Hewlett-Packard’s converged infrastructure strategy. But an industry analyst says there are still gaps

HP expands its FlexNetwork portfolio

NEW YORK – The management upheaval at Hewlett-Packard Co. isn’t stopping the company from continuing to broaden its converged network strategy.

On Wednesday HP announced more additions to support its FlexNetwork architecture for enterprises, including the ability to virtualize a top of rack switch.

It also revealed a new senior vice-president and general manager of HP Networking, Bethany Mayer, who temporarily replaced Marius Haas when he left the post earlier this year.

The new products “provide a lot of new flexibility, agility and performance for the data centre,” she told reporters here, and gives HP [NYSE: HPQ] the ability to offer more hardware to reduce data centre architectures from three to two layers.

As part of its vision of flattening networks throughout the enterprise, HP also released guidelines for creating what it calls a two-level FlexCampus architecture and a campus switch line to help achieve it. (Earlier this year it released the FlexFabic architecture guidelines for data centres. There’s also a strategy for branches called FlexBranch.)

The new products include

–the HP 5900AF series of 10 Gigabit Ethernet top of rack switches for the server access layer of enterprise data centres or the core layer of medium-sized companies.

The 5900 includes forty-eight10 GbE ports and four 40 GbE uplink ports, and Layer 2 and Layer 3 capabilities.

Most importantly, HP says, the switch includes the latest version of its IRF (intelligent resilient framework) software, which now allows four chassis to be bonded together into one logical switch.

Until now IRF could only bond two devices. As part of Wednesday’s announcement HP said its 12500 core data centre switch is now also enabled to bond four of its chassis to make a large, high density core switch.

With the 5900 AF, IT managers can eliminate the aggregation layer because the top of rack switch can connect directly to the 12500, the company said.

It will be available in the first quarter of next year with a starting price of US$38,000.

– the HP 3800 series of stackable access switches for campuses, which can be meshed or ring stacked. There are nine models, with a choice of  24 port, 48 port, 24 port PoE+, 48 port PoE+ with either SFP+ or 10GBase-T uplinks and a 24 port SFP with 2 SFP+ uplinks. HP touts their 3 microsecond latency for voice and video apps. Prices start at US$4,969.

–to broaden the capabilities of the E5400zl and E8200zl branch switches, HP is adding two virtualized service modules, one supporting VMware and the other Citrx Xen, for the those switches. They will allow the insertion of services from third party vendors such as WAN optimization, security or unified communications in the switch instead of being housed in separate appliances.

The advantage, HP says, should be lower power consumption from the reduced number of appliances and a saving in operating costs.

HP also released a FlexCampus reference architecture to help network managers plan for unified wired and wireless networks. It parallels the FlexFabric architecture for data centres released earlier this year.

—Finally, early next year HP will expand its Intelligent Management Center (IMC), which acts as a unified management suite for all of its devices and those for a number of other network equipment makers, to include network access control for mobile devices running the Apple iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows mobile operating systems.

Not related to the fabric announcements was word that HP will offer IPv6 migration advisory services.

Zeus Kerravala, an industry analyst with ZK Research, saw merit in the new pieces. But, he added, what’s missing is the architectural tie in between the FlexFabric vision and the products.  It’s not clear which products tie into each other to create the same design as, say, Juniper Network Inc.’s Q Fabric, Cisco System Inc.’s FabricPath or Brocade Communication’s VCS. 

“What HP appears to have a collection of high quality products that fall under the umbrella of FlexFabric but it’s unclear how customers would migrate to FlexFabric with these products,” he said in an email.

In an interview, Mayer said HP still has more pieces to reveal for FlexNetwork, including adding products to give more performance, resiliency and the ability of managers to roll out services faster.

Saar Gillai, HP Networking’s chief technology officer, said ultimately HP is trying to create a control plane in the network that abstracts the complexity of the physical layer and creates a logical layer that is more aligned with the services IT managers are providing. “So instead of looking at VLANs and ports, you’re looking at a pool of virtualized resources you allocate to roll out different services. So you create what we call ‘virtual services network(s)’ that are defined for the applications you run.” Administrators won’t worry about the physical settings of the network, he said, because it will done automatically

But he acknowledged that it won’t happen quickly. “This is an evolution,” he said, “not a revolution.”

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