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New HP campus core switches and architecture aim for a flat LAN

At Interop 2011, HP will push new campus core switches and an architecture that takes the enterprise LAN flat, but it will not announce a data center network fabric.

The takeaway: New HP campus core switches are part of a plan to flatten the enterprise LAN and manage the data center, campus and branch networks as one using multichassis link aggregation technology.

At Interop Las Vegas 2011, HP Networking will launch new campus core switches and a network architecture that aims to flatten the campus LAN in the same way that many have redesigned their data center LANs. Yet the HP Networking launch is very notably missing a data center network fabric strategy to rival those released by competitors in the last few months.

With the HP FlexNetwork architecture, IT shops can treat the enterprise network as a single entity, from the data center to the campus and the branch, linking FlexFabric (in the data center), FlexCampus and FlexBranch. HP's enterprise-wide approach is interesting, said Andre Kindness, senior analyst with Forrester Research, but it's also “a diversion from the fact that they don't have an answer for the data center.”

That could be tough on HP this week at Interop 2011, considering Juniper will be showing off its QFabric data center strategy, Alcatel-Lucent will have its Application Fluent Network and pod-based networking, and Brocade will have its VDX switches. Both Juniper and Alcatel-Lucent have been nominated as Best of Interop 2011 finalists for their fabric strategies.

Meanwhile, despite the hype around an architecture vision, HP will essentially be focused on powerful campus core chassis switches, which it is positioning against Cisco's Catalyst 6500 switches.

HP switches and architecture change the campus network strategy

The idea behind HP's campus core switches and architecture is that the campus network needs to flatten out just as much as the data center network in order to eliminate the distortion layer, reduce latency and complexity and improve the performance of rich media applications like video conferencing, a major challenge in existing enterprise campus networks, said Michael Nielsen, director of network solutions marketing for HP.

"Networks are stifling innovation," Nielsen said. "With the explosion of multimedia, bandwidth allocation is one-seventh of where it needs to be over the next three or four years. Video will dominate and be 25% to 40% of all enterprises business communications. With the current three-tiered architecture [in the campus] with 10-20 microsecond latency per hop, there is a tangible impact on how multimedia will be consumed."

The three models of HP's A10500 series top out at 128 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports or 385 GbE ports with three microsecond port-to-port latency and 11 Tbps of total throughput. HP will also demo the switches' 40 GbE capability at Interop 2011, but it hasn't announced when this capability will reach the market.

Enterprises can create what is essentially a distributed core by linking up to four of these chassis together via HP's Intelligent Redundant Framework (IRF) technology. IRF is akin to multichassis link aggregation (MLAG) and stacking technology, allowing networking pros to link multiple switches together and operate them as a single device.

With the density and power of the A10500, enterprises can eliminate the distribution layer in the campus and connect access layer E5400 and E8400 HP switches directly to the core, Nielsen said. Customers can also use IRF to link those core switches and edge switches together and configure and manage them as two logical devices.

Yet Kindness said IRF allows you to combine switches within the same tier of the network, but it doesn’t' enable true flattening of the network because there are still two layers of linked switches managed separately. He also said the new series of campus core switches adds some confusion to the market.

"They're getting really complex. They've got the 12k, the 9k, the 7k and now the 10k, plus the 8200s and the 5400s. And those are just the chassis," he said. "They're getting a lot more complicated than Cisco has ever been. I know they're trying to bring it together, but it's really slow and it makes it tough for customers to invest in this."

Where is the HP data center networking story?

But the larger challenge for HP networking right now is better integrating H3C products so that the company has a solid data center virtualization strategy.

"They don't really need to come out with a new data center product. H3C had just built the 12500 when HP bought them," said Zeus Kerravala, distinguished research fellow and vice president with Yankee Group. "But for whatever reason it hasn't made its way to being a part of the broader HP portfolio yet. This is the product they should build their data center story around. They just need to give us an idea of what a virtualized HP data center looks like."

The ideal strategy would combine 3Com and H3C products with servers and storage in an overall data center infrastructure vision. HP has been largely silent on this front since the acquisition.

"They have some networking products. They have servers. And they have storage. But how does the HP networking product provide a competitive advantage over Cisco and the other guys? For a company the size of HP, it has to be an architectural play," Kerravala said.

HP addresses data center management and security at Interop 2011

HP's data center vision might not be solid enough for analysts, but the company will address virtualization security and traffic visibility enhancements at Interop Las Vegas 2011. HP announced the TippingPoint S6100N intrusion prevention system (IPS) appliance for the data center with approximately 16 Gbps throughput that has the ability to inspect virtual server traffic. The S61000N deploys software onto VMware ESX hosts and inspects traffic among virtual machines. Based on policies set on the appliance, this software forwards any traffic that requires IPS inspection upstream to the appliance.

HP also announced virtualization management capabilities in version 5.0 of its Intelligence Management Center (IMC). IMC now has the ability to federate with server orchestration software in order to apply network configuration and policies to virtual machines when they migrate across infrastructure. Nielsen said version 5.1 of IMC, due out in the second half of the year, will include integration into HP's FlexConnect I/O virtualization technology so that network administrators will have more visibility into the network state of virtualized blade servers.

Read full coverage of Interop Las Vegas 2011 news.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

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