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HPE intros its first open 25 GbE top-of-the-rack switch

Hewlett Packard Enterprise has released its first 25 GbE top-of-the-rack open switch. The Altoline 6960 joins 10/40/100 GbE switches in the portfolio.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise has added the first 25 GbE top-of-the-rack switch to its Altoline portfolio, targeting large-scale data center operators that want a cost-effective alternative to 40 GbE hardware.

HPE launched this week the Altoline 6960, a 32-port, 1RU system that companies can configure as a 100 GbE spine or a 25 GbE top-of-the-rack (ToR) switch. As a ToR switch, the 6960 is meant to appeal to companies that need more horsepower than the typical 10 GbE switch, but believe 40 GbE hardware is overkill.

"I think having a 25/100 GbE Altoline switch is significant for HPE," said Brad Casemore, an analyst at IDC. "The price-performance of 25 GbE is attractive to many data centers that currently have 10 GbE and 40 GbE switches."

The 6960 has a four-core 2.4 GHz Intel Atom processor, and a routing and switching capacity of 32 Tbps. 

HPE has a half dozen Altoline switches, with the 6960 being the first 25 GbE product. Last year, HPE launched the family of switches as an open alternative to Cisco, which accounted for 56% of the worldwide switching and router market in 2015, according to the Synergy Research Group. An open switch is typically bare-metal hardware that lets the buyer choose the network operating system (NOS).

Organizations that choose either a Cumulus Networks or Pica8 OS for an Altoline switch can also get HPE support. Later in the year, the vendor said it plans to provide support for OpenSwitch, an open source NOS.

Benefits of 25 GbE top-of-the-rack switch

HPE is not alone in selling open switches. Dell and Juniper Networks provide similar products in trying to take business from Cisco and each other.

All the vendors have a strategy for selling 25 GbE top-of-the-rack switches to meet the higher bandwidth needs of large companies with cloud data centers. The switch can provide the higher throughput at a cost similar to a 10 GbE product.

In providing support for multiple operating systems, HPE and its rivals are hoping to make their products more palatable to large cutting-edge enterprises that want a vendor close by to help with problems. Examples of companies that want a vendor's hand to hold when in trouble include financial institutions, such as Citibank and Bank of America, and multinationals, like FedEx.

Companies that prefer to go it alone and develop custom switches are typically the largest Internet companies, such as Amazon, Facebook and Google. Those companies usually buy a bare-metal switch and load their OS, or one from someone else.

HPE and its rivals are hoping go-it-alone companies are also an emerging market for their open switches. Some analysts believe that's a pipe dream.

"Everyone likes to think that they can sell to Google, because shareholders understand who Google is, but quite frankly, Google will never call on them, because they will be far too expensive," said John Fruehe, an analyst for Moor Insights & Strategy, based in Austin, Texas.

Next Steps

Network programmability through white box switching

Increasing server-to-switch performance with 25 GbE

Network management through Virtual cluster switching

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