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HP strengthens its core

Change may be in the air at Hewlett-Packard, but its ProCurve networking group is still working to chip away at Cisco Systems with new core switches and management modules.

Despite plenty of competition, Hewlett-Packard Co. hopes a new spate of enterprise networking products will further chip away at competitors -- most notably market leader Cisco Systems Inc.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based vendor's ProCurve group today rolled out a new line of core switches, branch-office switches and add-ons to its network management software, with the goal of adding flexibility to the enterprise network while enabling comprehensive management capabilities from a single application.

The key component is the new ProCurve Interconnect Fabric Switch 8100fl Series. The core switches, developed in-house using technologies acquired from its 2004 acquisition of Riverstone Networks' XGS enterprise technology platform, feature chasses with dedicated switch fabric and management modules.

There are two models in the 8100fl Series: the 8108 offers eight dedicated interface module slots, with up to 160 Gbps full duplex switching capacity and eight 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports or 80 Gigabit wire-speed sports; the 8116 offers 16 slots, with up to 320 Gbps full duplex switching capacity and 16 10 GigE ports or 160 Gigabit wire-speed ports.

Both devices offer optional management and switch fabric redundancy, which Andre Kindness, Americas product manager with HP ProCurve, said is enabled by individual software kernels residing on each of the modules.

"The main module and the backup are both accepting information at the same time, so if the active unit goes down, the passive one takes over," Kindness said. "This way, when packets come in on a module, the header isn't ripped off and sent to a single management module where you could lose that data."

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Each device will be available in October; the 8108 will list for $27,999, while the 8116 will go for $38,999.

HP is complementing the new core line with add-ons for its ProCurve Manager Plus network management software: Identity Driven Manager 2.0 and Mobility Manager 1.0.

IDM, which already allows administrators to develop user group policies that allocate bandwidth and ensure quality of service, has been augmented with per-user access control lists, meaning network access parameters can be customized by time, date, location and type of device.

In addition, the update standardizes the authentication procedure so that Manager Plus can use network remediation servers to ensure endpoint devices have the proper system updates and antivirus signatures before they are allowed full network access.

While it may resemble Cisco's much-publicized Network Access Control (NAC) initiative, HP ProCurve product manager Al Madden said HP's offering stands out because it complies with the Trusted Network Connect, a set of open standards that allow for network security enforcement across a variety of best-of-breed endpoints.

Additionally, IDM 2.0 pushes access rights information down to the switch level on an as-needed basis, and is compliant with three radius servers: Microsoft IIS, FreeRadius on Red Hat Linux and Funk Software's Steel-Belted Radius. The add-on will be available in December for $5,499.

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Meanwhile, Mobility Manager adds wireless network management functionality to Manager Plus, such as rogue access detection and access point configuration, and offers setup templates that are intended to reduce wireless network setup time. Mobility Manager will be priced at $1,999 and also released in December.

Finally, HP is debuting the 2600-8-PWR, a fully managed stackable switch for remote office environments with eight auto-sensing 10/100 Power over Ethernet-enabled ports and one Gigabit Ethernet uplink.

Capable of offering 15.4 watts of power to each of the eight ports, Madden said it is ideal for office locations that support VoIP phones, IP surveillance cameras, handheld scanners or other devices that may not have easy access to an A/C outlet. It will ship next month for $899.

Robert Whiteley, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., said HP isn't announcing anything revolutionary, but the new products and features do make ProCurve more viable versus Cisco, Nortel Networks Ltd. and others, particularly in regard to the Manager Plus add-ons.

"IDM 2.0, even though they buried it on page two of this announcement, shows that they're a really competitive switching vendor," Whiteley said. He added that Mobility Manager trails Cisco slightly in terms of functionality and manageability, "but it gives ProCurve the weapons to stay on par with Cisco competitively."

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