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Openness key to latest HP Ethernet switch line

Hewlett-Packard joins Dell and Juniper Networks by launching a line of switching gear that runs on open operating systems. The HP Ethernet switch will be available in late March.

Hewlett-Packard is battling Cisco for a larger share of the Ethernet switch market with a strategy that gives cloud service providers a choice of software running on HP-branded hardware.

HP introduced Thursday a line of networking switches in which Taiwan-based Accton Technology Corp. designed the hardware and Cumulus Networks provided its Linux-based operating system. The HP Ethernet switch line will support software from Cumulus' competitors in the future.

In late March, HP will make available 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) and 40 GbE switches for spine deployments and a 10 GbE system for leaf-spine networking architectures. In the second half of the year, HP plans to expand the line to 25, 50 and 100 GbE switches. A 1 GbE model will also be available.

Why the love for cloud service providers?

HP, like Dell and Juniper Networks, is targeting cloud service providers because they represent an area of the market where Cisco is deemed vulnerable. Cloud providers prefer open networking gear that can run different operating systems. 

To entice potential customers, HP will handle all technical support, sales and services, so companies don't have to deal with multiple vendors. Choosing to go after cloud providers makes sense, given current data center trends.

In the fourth quarter of 2014, the growth in the number of data centers worldwide was almost flat, increasing only 0.2%, according to 451 Research. Enterprises accounted for 83% of the market in terms of square feet, while cloud providers and multi-tenant data center (MTDC) vendors controlled 12% and 5%, respectively.

The market, however, is shifting to the cloud and MTDCs, because enterprises are increasingly using third-party data centers to run business software.

"Almost all the overarching market trends are working against the need for enterprises to build out more of their own data center space," 451 Research analyst Daniel Harrington said in a statement.

Awaiting Cisco's response 

Cisco has a majority share of the mainstream enterprise switch market, but it is not a favorite among cloud service providers. The latter prefer open software like Cumulus' or Big Switch Networks', so developers can tailor the operating system to meet the unique needs of the business.

"These guys have a refresh cycle of eight to 12 months, so if you think about that, this is why they have an affinity toward Bare metal," Forrester Research analyst Andre Kindness said. "They're replacing hardware very quickly and the data center is a competitive edge."

Rather than being stocked with proprietary chipsets and operating software, bare-metal switches use merchant silicon from suppliers such as Broadcom, Intel and Mellanox. The design lends itself to swapping operating systems or running multiple ones on the same hardware.

HP will be responsible for precertifying the hardware for running the Cumulus OS, Mark Carroll, chief technology officer for HP, said. Accton, a longtime partner of HP, is contributing open hardware designs and is helping with certification testing.

Cisco is expected to eventually make its play for the cloud provider market with networking software that will also appeal to mainstream companies adopting cloud-based architectures for delivering software and services.

"They're very cognizant of where this is all going," IDC analyst Brad Casemore said. "They know that they have to have a value proposition and a story for developers."

For now, Cisco holds the lion's share of the Ethernet switch market. At the end of the third quarter of 2014, Cisco held 65% while HP had 5%, according to the latest numbers from IDC.

Next Steps

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