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HP modular switch prepped for faster Wi-Fi

HP's latest module for the HP 5400R zl2 ensures the hardware can handle the throughput from 802.11ac access points. The HP modular switch competes with the Cisco Catalyst.

HP is beefing up its modular campus switch to handle the throughput of wireless access points based on the latest...

802.11ac standard.

The company introduced at Interop this week a Wi-Fi module for the HP 5400R zl2. The company also introduced a network troubleshooting application called Network Visualizer SDN.

The module's foundation is HP's latest application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC). The HP modular switch needs the ASIC to process data flows from 802.11ac access points (APs). Many companies started swapping out slower 802.11n APs last year. By the end of this year, the number of shipments of 802.11ac devices will surpass that of the older models, according to IDC.

The module ensures the 5400R zl2 remains useful in a network of next generation APs. The current iteration of 802.11ac, called Wave 1, has more than double the throughput of 802.11n. It can also handle many more mobile devices per AP.

Module prevents 'rip and replace'

HP customers expect to use a switch for as many as 10 years, so the vendor has to extend the life of the hardware when new technology is introduced in the network, said Mark Thompson, director of global product line management in HP Networking.

"What they want to do is not have to rip and replace equipment in the wiring closet every time they go through that access point upgrade," he said.

The upgrade to 802.11ac Wave 1 APs is painless for most businesses because the devices do not require a cable upgrade. Cat5e and Cat6 cables used by the majority of companies can handle the higher throughput of Wave 1 devices, as long as it doesn't exceed 1 gigabit per second.

Wave 2 could be more problematic. The technology provides up to five times the bandwidth of Wave 1 and supports as much as four times the number of simultaneous connections per AP.

Companies looking to come close to those multiples will likely need to make an expensive upgrade to Cat6a. Businesses have time to decide how to deal with Wave 2, however. The number of mobile devices supporting the standard is expected to remain small for several years.

Multi-gig support with today's cabling

Two vendor alliances and the IEEE are working on specifications for supporting 2.5 and 5 Gigabit Ethernet over Cat5e and Cat6. Such rates would be high enough for most companies.

The HP module provides multi-gig support over Cat5e and Cat6. Taking advantage of the capability in the switch requires the same support in the AP. "If either side doesn’t, then it falls back to 1 Gigabit per second Ethernet," said Mike Fratto, analyst for Current Analysis.

Multi-gig support is expected in APs from Aruba Networks, which HP said it plans to acquire by October for $2.7 billion.

The HP 5400R zl2 Series v3 Module is scheduled for release May 1. Pricing will range from $3,299 to $6,799.

Network Visualizer helps diagnose and repair network bottlenecks. The troubleshooting software is useful in correcting problems within a software-defined network (SDN), particularly one built around HP's Virtual Application Networks OpenFlow controller.

Network Visualizer is set for release in June.

Next Steps

How 802.11ac affects security

Overcoming 802.11ac shortcomings

Buying 802.11ac access points

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