HP promises Cisco-killing core switch

Hewlett-Packard Co. has promised to build a core switch using high-speed technology it has acquired from Riverstone Networks. Not just any core switch, though. Although it will be a chassis switch, it will be based on a low-cost high-speed architecture which puts intelligence at the edge instead of focusing on expensive centralized intelligence in the manner of Cisco Systems Inc. The company also announced upgrades to its existing network products.

“You can assume that what we do will be 180 degrees out of phase with what Cisco does,” said Jon Weatherall, HP’s UK Procurve networking manager. “We are moving functions like prioritization and authorization from the core to the edge. Our customers need a fast switching fabric without too much intelligence.” Cisco’s strategy is to continue building more in the core he said. “That is more expensive and less resilient.”

The new switches, due in the autumn, will give HP more in-house switch technology, reaching further into the core. Until now HP has made its own products (the 5300 range) for work group and wiring closet, but has had to resell Foundry’s chassis switches as its 9300 range.

These switches aren’t exactly in the doldrums, however, and the Foundry deal will continue, said Weatherall. “The 9300 business is increasing dramatically at the moment. We’ve always sold our edge switches alongside other vendors’ core switches.” However, the new core switches will be “an option” instead of a Cisco-style core-centric network and will be a lot cheaper, he said.

HP’s ProCurve network division has acquired hardware designs and operating system technology from Riverstone, along with the rights to develop the technology further for enterprise customers, while Riverstone will continue to develop it further for service providers.

HP has launched products including higher density gigabit-Ethernet and power-over-Ethernet modules for its 5300 series. The 16 port gigabit-on-copper module replaces a current module with only four ports, presumably cutting port costs (prices not available yet). “There’s a massive increase in Gigabit to the desktop,” said Weatherall.

The company is also packing 24 ports of powered Ethernet in a 5300-series module. This kind of power demand means the company also needed to launch an external power supply, the 610, which takes up 1U of rack space and can drive four of the PoE modules, supporting up to 96 PoE ports. The company is putting together switch-plus-power supply bundles, intended for users wanting to roll out IP telephony, or other PoE intensive applications. The powered-Ethernet market is set to take off, as port costs fall.

Other announcements in Monday’s portfolio include new software for the company’s 700wl wireless system — a badged version of the Vernier wireless gateway — intended to improve its usability. There is also new software for the Foundry switches which make up HP’s 9300 line. Other hardware goodies include better aerials for the company’s 420 and 520 wireless access points.

Readers who know too much about the networking industry will remember Riverstone as the high-speed networking fragment of the ’90s networking giant Cabletron. Some may even see a tenuous connection since Cabletron inherited Digital Equipment’s networking division when Compaq bought the company, and HP now owns the rest of Digital Equipment thanks to its merger with Compaq.

HP’s ProCurve switch division operates fairly independently from the rest of the company, and might be another obvious stand-alone division, in the event that calls to break up HP are heeded.

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