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HP plans to 'flatten' the network core

HP not only previews next year's new family of 10 GigE stackables, but also offers a glimpse at its new strategy that emphasizes edge intelligence and eliminates redundant functionality in the network core.

Hewlett-Packard Co. this week is hoping to grab hold of the thought leadership mantle in the enterprise networking space by previewing new gear that emphasizes edge intelligence and, for the first time, removes redundant functionality in the network core.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based vendor's ProCurve Networking group has released a new series of six-port stackable core distribution switches that offer full Layer 3 and Layer 4 functionality. The 6400cl series, which will be available next spring, offers a half dozen 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports with optional rear two-port 10 GigE add-on modules.

Intended for small, high-performance implementations and aggregation of HP's recently announced 3400cl switches, the device comes in two versions. The 6400 offers six fixed ports based on the IEEE's 802.3ak copper standard to support 10Gbase-CX4 cabling. Its sister device, the 6410, offers six slots that support X2 type 10 GigE transceivers for either 10 GigE copper or fiber.

The 6400 and 6410 will list for $5,429 and $8,099, respectively. However, HP is endeavoring to move away from traditional core stackables and toward a more basic type of core device that relies heavily on intelligent edge devices to perform key functions such as authorization, packet analysis and quality of service.

Mark Thompson, ProCurve's worldwide sales and marketing manager, said that as intelligence increases at the edge of the network, the focus in the interconnect space will transition to high availability, redundancy and bandwidth.

To that end, in 2005 the company will offer a new family of Ethernet LAN interconnection devices called the Edge Fabric that relies on devices at the edge of the network to perform decision-making processes.

"Your old core box may be fine for a while, but eventually you'll need to get packets from edge to edge fast and reliably," Thompson said. "The product we're going to bring to market next year will perform like a reliable, high-end middle-of-the-network chassis, but at a price point that reflects that we've taken functionality out of the box."

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Thompson said the Edge series will rely on technology that HP acquired earlier this year when it purchased 10 GigE switch vendor Riverstone Networks. He also said it will take some time before network managers realize that they no longer need advanced functionality in the network core.

"At this point in time, unlike two years ago, the majority of our competitors are now helping us with educating customers," Thompson said. "We've seen from our sales that the majority of those Layer 3 boxes aren't going into cores anymore, so people are getting the message."

Jon Oltsik, senior analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group, in Milford, Mass., said even though the intelligent edge concept has been floating around for years, HP is going farther than other vendors to advance the concept.

"They're the first ones to design and implement this kind of model," Oltsik said. "One of the challenges for HP is that network engineers have this multi-tiered core network mentality, so it'll take a few years to overcome that, but flattening the network that way could significantly lower costs."

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