HP FlexFabric 7900 switch enables compact spines to data centers

With the FlexFabric 7900, HP introduces a series of compact, modular spine switches for data center networks.

Hewlett-Packard announced a new series of data center switches that allow engineers to use compact spine switches to build a leaf-and-spine network.

The HP FlexFabric 7900 series kicks off with the 7904 switch, a 2 rack-unit chassis that supports up to 48 40 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports with 3.8 Tbps of total switching capacity. The switch starts at $55,500 and is available now. A 4 rack-unit model will be available later this year.

HP joins a growing list of vendors that are offering an alternative to large core chassis switches.

"It's a reflection that we're moving more intelligence out of the center of the network to the edge, and the center of the network is just becoming a high-bandwidth highway," said Andre Kindness, principal analyst for Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Forrester Research. "In many ways, data centers are getting closer to how the Internet is built. Chassis have become too big -- almost 50% of chassis slots aren't used right now because people buy for the future, not for the moment."

In the days of big Cisco Catalyst 6500 cores, network engineers delivered all advanced services in the core. Cisco offered chassis blades for wireless control, intrusion detection and firewalls. "And because of the hierarchy of networks, that's also where you set your access control lists," Kindness said.

With the fluidity of virtual machines and the virtualization of the server access layer, however, enterprises are less inclined to centralize everything in the data center core. They'd rather scale the network out by adding new compact spine switches instead of scaling up in a core by adding new blades into an oversized chassis, Kindness said.

The HP FlexFabric 7900 series, while still modular, offers that compact alternative. Other vendors have gone further, offering fixed spine switches rather than modular ones. Even Cisco, which sells a variety of large chassis switches -- Nexus 7000, Nexus 7700 and Nexus 9500 -- recently introduced a line of Nexus 9300 compact, fixed-spine switches.

"Those fixed-form factor, high-density spine switches absolutely meet the needs of mainstream data centers today, where we are seeing a trend away from… underutilized… large chassis to small, fixed switches," said Andrew Lerner, research director for Stamford, Connecticut-based Gartner Inc.

More than a year ago, HP revealed a new generation of HP chassis switches-- the HP FlexFabric 12900 series with up to 16 slots and 36 Tbps of total switching capacity -- for enterprises that want to stick to the old way of scaling the core. With the 7900 series, HP is offering customers a choice between huge chassis and more compact, decentralized options.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, news director or follow him on Twitter @ShamusTT.

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