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HP data center fabric vision takes shape with HP 5900 switch

Combined with its core A12500 chassis, HP’s new top-of-rack 5900 switch marks the beginning of a data center fabric vision.

With its new top-of-rack data center switch, the HP 5900, HP Networking’s data center fabric strategy is starting to take shape.

The 5900, when combined with HP’s 12500 chassis, forms the basis of an emerging vision for data center fabric. The HP 5900 ships with support for HP’s Intelligent Resilient Framework (IRF), which allows enterprises to operate up to four of the switches as a single, logical device. With this technology, customers can build a mini-fabric of four top-of-rack switches and then scale out further by plugging groups of these 5900s into four 12500 switches that have also been logically connected via IRF.

“I’ve been pretty critical of [HP] over the past year and a half because it seemed like they didn’t have a data center presence. The 5900, combined with the 12500, gives them some beef in the data center,” said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research.

HP 5900: A promising top-of-rack switch for data center fabrics

The HP 5900 is a 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) switch that comes in 24-port and 48-port configurations. The 48-port version has four QSFP+ ports that can eventually serve as four 40 GbE uplinks to an 12500 or 16 additional 10 GbE ports. The HP 5900 features ultra-low, one-microsecond latency and data center convergence capabilities with future support of Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE). Any port will be able to operate in FCoE or pure Ethernet.

According to Kash Shaikh, director of product marketing, HP is positioning the switch against two Cisco switches: the Cisco ultra-low latency Nexus 3000 and the Nexus 5548 for converged storage and data traffic in the server access tier of data centers.

“We wanted to make sure we provided consolidation of devices as opposed to Cisco, which has the Nexus 3000 for low latency and the Nexus 5548 for convergence of Ethernet and storage,” Shaikh said.

The HP 5900 fully supports IPv6. And for enterprises looking to eliminate spanning tree protocol in their data center fabric, HP is promising future support on the 5900 for Transparent Interconnections of Lots of Links (TRILL), a technology that Cisco Systems and Brocade have both adapted to some extent for multipath in their own data center fabric products.

The 5900 puts HP on equal footing with Juniper and Cisco in terms of some basic top-of-rack switch capabilities, such as forwarding rates, ports counts and buffering capabilities, according to Andre Kindness, senior analyst with Forrester Research. It also represents the start of a data center fabric vision.

“They’re moving away from low pricing as their core message, which they’ve had the last two years,” Kindness said. “Now they’re starting to lead with vision. The reasons why enterprise customers are buying Cisco and are excited about Juniper is that these companies have a vision. Companies need someone to tell them where the industry is going.”

However, HP’s IRF-based data center fabric doesn’t quite measure up to a full QFabric implementation with Juniper, which promises to allow enterprises to manage hundreds of switches and thousands of ports as a single system, Kindness said. He also noted that an enterprise can build out a basic data center fabric with Brocade’s VCS data center fabric and operate up to 24 top-of-rack VDX 6720 switches as one logical device.

Data center fabric vision is here, but architecture needs fleshing out

HP’s FlexFabric vision for data center fabric looks promising to Kerravala, but so far the company’s approach looks very product-focused. He’d like to see more of an architectural vision from HP.

“What I’m talking about is what fits between the vision and the product,” Kerravala said. “That is the architecture. How should I build out these networks using these products? With Juniper’s QFabric, it’s pretty simple. You have the top-of-rack and the interconnect. One plugs into the other and that creates your fabric. With HP it appears there are a lot of different options with what you can do. So what I need to see from them is: What are those options and how do they fit into existing environments and greenfield environments? Use cases. That’s what is missing.

“It may be that the 5900 is best-in-class right now, but ultimately there’s going to be another product that is faster. I’d like to see HP move to more of an architectural sell. They talked a lot about virtual machine transport speed [from switch to switch] that is 50% faster than it is with spanning tree. What if it has to pass through the 12500? Is there any added latency there? If you talk about data center architecture, it has to be about more than the top of rack. How do you put these pieces together?”

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Director.


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