FRAMINGHAM, Mass. -- Hewlett-Packard Co. is taking its first leap into OpenFlow-enabled network equipment, supporting the standard on 16 of its Ethernet switch products as it attempts to gain a foothold in a market likely to receive significant attention from competitors.
Beyond adding OpenFlow support on this first batch of switches, which includes the HP 3500, 5400 and 8200 series, HP plans to extend OpenFlow support across all of the switches offered under its FlexNetwork architecture.
OpenFlow is a software-defined networking standard that has been a major topic of discussion in the network and infrastructure management field of late, with those in academia and the research sector weighing its potential for the future. Initially used for research, OpenFlow essentially replaces the network equipment required for the control plane with source code. Proponents say doing that eliminates the need for hundreds, or sometimes thousands, of switches and routers, enabling network managers to move core routers to the edge and better examine the network. Also, because the controller is adapted to software code, network managers are afforded the freedom to program their own networks.
OpenFlow's ability to help IT staff gain insight into the network and develop entirely new architectures is what made it a win for the researchers and technologists who worked with it from the start. This includes HP Networking distinguished technologist Charles Clark, who worked alongside the first technologists who crafted OpenFlow at Stanford University in 2007.
"We started working with Stanford and found that they had come up with this very interesting idea of being able to centrally control flow tables of switches in the network, and trying to understand how we can use that both for research purposes and maybe also for solutions for customers," Clark says.
However, OpenFlow has primarily remained a research protocol in the four years since it was introduced. That's why Saar Gillai, CTO of HP Networking, says the announcement of OpenFlow support for the company's switches is a landmark for HP.
"Up until now there certainly hasn't been any availability of OpenFlow on [HP's] Tier 1 products, and with this we're sort of crossing that boundary," Gillai says. "When you cross that boundary, [the market] does change, which is one of the reasons that we think this is a big deal. We think that now customers can feel safe that they have it on a supported product, and we do think it's going to start more use cases in the enterprise."
Growth in OpenFlow adoption and real-world use at the enterprise network level will not happen overnight, Gillai says. At first, he expects organizations, including universities, that are already familiar with OpenFlow to be open to HP's new switch portfolio. Once those use cases gain more recognition, the conversation in the industry surrounding OpenFlow will shift from the theoretical to that of real-world results, Gillai says.
"Although there are certainly deployments that people are actually using, most of the chatter is around what could be done," Gillai says. "Over the next year, as people start using this type of technology in certain applications, whether it's with service providers, large data centers and so forth, some of the discussion will move more toward how things are done or what deployments look like and where it looks better and where it looks worse. So I think it's going to be more discussion about experience and less discussion about theoretical."