HP finally unveils converged network architecture

LAS VEGAS — For months industry analysts have complained that Hewlett-Packard Co. has been the only leading networking equipment manufacturer without a clear statement on how to create next-generation converged networks.

On Monday, the company took a big step forward to resolving that by revealing its FlexNetwork architecture that not only helps companies to create converged network linking virtualized servers and storage in their data centres but also extends it across the enterprise.

“What HP’s done very uniquely with this architecture is have a common approach that we build products to from the data centre to the branch,” Dave Donatelli, executive vice-president of HP’s enterprise service, storage and networking division told reporters here on the eve of the annual Interop conference. “It’s a more modern architecture than what’s out there and because of that it allows us to innovate faster” than competitors.

This enterprise-wide fabric approach differs from several competitors who have focused their fabric vision so far only in the data centre.


HP says FlexNetwork converges the network by ensuring protocols are implemented consistently across all networked devices throughout an enterprise. As a result, customers are able to simplify and speed service delivery across the data centre, campus and branch.

FlexNetwork has three components:
— FlexFabric, which HP says simplifies data centre infrastructure with converged network, compute and storage resources across both virtual and physical environments to accommodate hybrid cloud computing models;

— FlexCampus, said to improve performance, lower latency and increase security for identity-based access of multimedia content across converged wired and wireless networks.

To deliver the campus fabric, HP will release hardware tailored for two-tier network architectures later this year: The A10500 series of three core campus switches, two of which have 128 wire-speed 10GbE ports.

All three have a latency of three microseconds, which HP stresses meets the demands of videoconferencing.

For large campuses, a super core with 208 wire-speed 10GbE ports can be created with two A10500 switches using the HP’s Intelligent Resilient Framework, which lets multiple switches to be virtualized and operate as a single switch. The A10500 can support 100GbE with new line cards.

Prices for the A10500 series will start at US$38,000.

For the campus access layer, new line cards are now available for the E5400 and E8200 switches that decrease latency and boost throughput compared to their existing configurations;

— FlexBranch, which extends and simplifies network and security at the branch. No new hardware for this level was announced today, but HP says existing gear in its lineup will allow customers to deliver the architecture;

They are all overseen by the Intelligent Managment Centre 5 (IMC 5.0), the latest version of HP’s single-pane management application. HP says not only does it manage all of its hardware, it can also manage well as more than 2,600 network devices from over 35 vendors.

Finally, for improved data centre security HP also showed off the TippingPoint S6100N IPS appliance, an upgrade of its s5100N unit, which protects virtual machines as they are created or moved across an enterprise. HP says the new version is up to  60 per cent faster than the previous model. It has a list price of US$210,000.

In an interview, Marius Haas, senior vice-president of HP’s networking division said the campus switches and line cards are “leap and bounds ahead of the competition” in terms of performance throughput, energy consumption and manageability.

With FlexNetwork– as much a guideline for HP in designing its network equipment as it is a guideline to managers for building converged networks — Haas said “the customer now has ultimate flexibility, because they have an open standards-based, modular-based, integrated architecture model at the data centre, the campus and the branch all managed with a single pane of glass.”

Not unexpectedly, HP believes it has a comprehensive network fabric vision superior to Cisco System Inc.’s FabricPath, Juniper Network Inc.’s QFabric, and  Brocade Communications’ CloudPlex.

Haas dismissed Juniper’s architecture as a “high-end, scale-out solution” that needs a fork-lift upgrade for customers, while Cisco has different solutions for the data centre and the edge of the network.

Spokesmen for the competitors weren’t available for comment.
Two industry analysts who have been briefed on the announcement but didn’t want to be named said it was about time HP filled in some of the holes in its network fabric story. However, both believe the manufacturer still needs to deliver data centre products to go with it.
Haas disagreed. The new architecture and campus switches announced Monday are compatible with the A12000 data centre switch, introduced at last year’s Interop. “We focussed on what’s net new for the customers” at the prss conference, he said.

“In the data centre we feel we’re extremely complete.”

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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