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HP reveals new generation of data center switches

Shamus McGillicuddy

HP launched a new line of data center switches, routers and virtual switches that the vendor contends gives it an edge in the ongoing battle for data center networking supremacy.

The new HP FlexFabric 12900 series is a large-scale addition to HP's data center core switch family, which also includes the

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12500 series. The premium 12916 chassis offers a maximum 36 Tbps, non-blocking fabric with a maximum of 768x10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) or 256x40 GbE ports.

"If capacity is what you want, this box has no shortage," said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst of ZK Research. "If it does perform to specs, it's the biggest switch out there."

The company also announced the FlexFabric 11908 data center switch for the aggregation tier of large networks. It delivers 7.7 Tbps of non-blocking fabric with 384x10 GbE and 64x40 GbE ports.

The 12900 and 11900 series data center switches support both Transparent Interconnects of Lots of Links (TRILL) and  Shortest Path Bridging (SPB), the competing standards for Layer 2 mulit-pathing fabrics. Other leading vendors -- Cisco, Brocade and Avaya -- have declared support for either one standard or the other, but not both. These chassis also support data center bridging and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) for converged data center networking.

"Supporting two open protocols [TRILL and SPB] ultimately gives customers choice," said Andre Kindness, principal analyst with Forrester Research, who noted that HP's TRILL support is standards-based, unlike Cisco's and Brocade's proprietary TRILL implementations.

Learn more about the SDN features in this release

New HP data center switches support OpenFlow 1.3

Additionally, the new switches will also support OpenFlow 1.3, the latest iteration of the software-defined networking protocol. HP is becoming the only vendor to support this version of OpenFlow in its data center switch chassis.

"With TRILL, SPB and, on top of that, OpenFlow 1.3, this moves them ahead. The only edge that Cisco has at this point is [its Layer 2 data center interconnect] OTV [Overlay Transport Virtualization]. HP hasn't really discussed data center to data center interconnects and the protocols they are supporting," Kindness said.

HP's recommended architecture with TRILL and Intelligent Resilient Framework (IRF) -- HP's multi-link aggregation and switch virtualization feature -- will support a data center fabric for 24,000 10 GbE server ports, the company claims.

These new switches finally give HP a real data center fabric story, Kerravala of ZK Research said. "They didn't have a true [modern] data center switch. Even the 12500 didn't really have the scalability characteristics needed, and it was a year old" when HP inherited the older switch as part of its acquisition of 3Com and H3C.

At the server access tier, HP unveiled the FlexFabric Virtual switch 5900v, software that replaces a hypervisor's native virtual switch. The platform initially supports VMware hypervisors, with other vendors' hypervisors to follow, HP said. When deployed in conjunction with the top-of-rack HP 5900AF switch, the 5900v uses the Virtual Ethernet Port Aggregator (VEPA) standard to pull all virtual machine switching out of virtualized servers and into the top-of-rack switch, giving network managers direct control and visibility over the virtual network edge.

HP's approach to virtual switching contrasts with Cisco's Nexus 1000v, which replaces the native virtual switch but continues to provide data forwarding on the local server, while extracting the control plane onto a specialized appliance, the Nexus 1010.

"This unifies the physical and virtual layers of the data center, but it's doing it with an industry standard," said Mike Banic, vice president of global marketing for HP Networking. "This provides clarity for what server administrators and network administrators do. All the switching is done in the 5900 switch. It extends what we're doing in the switch out to the hypervisor for consistent policy and a single pane of management."

HP's VEPA approach to virtual switching will appeal to data center teams that are struggling with organizational issues, Forrester analyst Kindness said. "I get calls all the time from clients asking about who should manage the virtual switch. Some say the server or hypervisor team should manage it, but they don't understand networking very well," he said. "[VEPA and the 5900v] allows you to get back to the scenario of physical devices controlling certain functions."

Finally, HP introduced the HSR 6800 router series, which HP describes as a carrier-class router for data center WAN edge connections. HP is positioning the 6800 against Cisco's ASR-1000 series. The 6800 has 2 Tbps of throughput and will ultimately support 40 and 100 GbE line cards, HP said. HP claims that customers that deploy the 6800 in redundant pairs using the company's IRF feature will see a failover recovery time of 687 microseconds, 4,900 times faster than the specification for the ASR-1000.

While this announcement gives HP a full-fledged roster of modern data center switches, Brad Casemore, research director with IDC, said he was surprised that the company declined to talk about converged infrastructure. Two of HP's chief competitors, Dell and Cisco, have been pulling their storage, server and management products closer together to offer customers an integrated offering.

"I know vendors that are very strong in the data center but are only offering switches always tell me that they do very well, except in instances where there is a converged infrastructure play. They don't get invited to those dances. I'm surprised that HP, which has all the ingredients to tell that story, isn't talking about it here," Casemore said.

Kerravala agreed. "Cisco's value is in the integration of UCS [Unified Computing System] and Nexus. There isn't a very good HP converged data center story. Nor do I think there is any integration between the switching and server groups [inside HP]. I think they need a better data center management story."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Director.


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