HP aims high with top-of-rack 10G Ethernet switch

HP 5900 switch bolsters FlexNetwork architecture, an alternative to Cisco Borderless Networks scheme

HP this week is rolling out an array of networking products for the enterprise campus, branch and data center, including a switch that fills a major gap in the company's offerings.

The new gear is aimed at addressing the growth of virtualization, multimedia applications and mobility in the workplace, and the transition to IPv6 and 10Gbps Ethernet. It includes a high-density 10G top-of-rack switch for the data center, a high growth segment of switching where HP has been lagging behind competitors.

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HP's product splash falls under the company's FlexNetwork architecture, unveiled in May. FlexNetwork attempts to unify enterprise data center, campus and branch networks under a common and consistent operating environment. It's viewed as an alternative to Cisco's Borderless Networks scheme, yet also includes data center networking, which Borderless Networks does not.

And data center networking is where HP could perhaps use the biggest boost, especially in top-of-rack switching, where the company failed to show up on Dell'Oro Group's market share radar screen for two straight quarters. Its new top-of-rack switch, the HP 5900, may change those misfortunes.

The 5900 comes in two configurations -- 48 10G ports and 24-ports. The 48-port 5900 has a switching capacity of 1.28Tbps and a forwarding rate of 952.32 million packet/sec. Latency is about 1 microsecond, HP says.

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Up to four units can be logically linked together using HP's Intelligent Resilient Framework (IRF) technology, which the company positions as a method for flattening the data center network. The 5900 supports the IEEE's Data Center Bridging (DCB) standard for lossless Ethernet operations, and the Fibre Channel over Ethernet standard is a future augmentation. The 5900 also supports four 40G Ethernet uplinks.

The 24-port 5920 has a switching capacity of 480Gbps and a packet forwarding rate of 357.12 million packet/sec. It, too, can be logically linked in groups of four through IRF, and also supports DCB.

Both switches also support IPv6 routing and dual-stack IPv4/IPv6 implementations for transitioning customers to the new routing protocol. The switches are also designed to support the IETF's TRILL specification for multipath and multihop Ethernet forwarding in the data center, and the IEEE's VEPA specification for offloading switching from hypervisors to physical switches in the infrastructure, HP says.

HP also enhanced its 12500 data center core switch with new software that improves resiliency and performance. IRF has been added to the switch, which allows four of them to be combined into a single logical switch, regardless of where they are physically located, HP says. The 12500 also supports IPv6 in this new software release.

For the campus, HP rolled out the HP 3800 stackable switch. There are a total of nine models in the 3800 line, including 24-port, 48-port, 24-port PoE+, 48-port PoE+ with either SFP+ or 10GBASE-T uplinks, and 24-port SFP switch with two SFP+ uplinks. The switches are based on HP's ProVision ASIC.

The 3800 line also reduces power consumption through support for the IEEE Energy Efficient Ethernet standard, HP says.

In the branch office, HP unveiled virtualized service modules for its 5400zl and 8200zl switches that integrate hypervisor technology from partners Citrix and VMware. The services modules are designed to accelerate application delivery to branch offices while reducing expenses by virtualizing those applications rather than running them physically on a branch office server. The modules, which run VMware VSphere 5 or Citrix XenServer, also reduce power consumption and space requirements, HP says.

For mobility, HP enhanced its Intelligent Management Center software with Release 5.1, which includes integrated mobile network access control. This helps enforce enterprise access of mobile devices and protect the IT infrastructure from unauthorized mobile access.

IMC 5.1 supports 5,786 devices from more than150 manufacturers, HP says.

"It's a solid announcement product-wise," says Mike Spanbauer, an analyst at Current Analysis. "There's actual substance across key portions," such as top-of-rack and stackables, he says.

Port density is in line with the majority of HP competitors whereas previously, HP was behind the curve in density, Spanbauer says.

Despite the breadth of this launch, some analysts are still noting gaps in the FlexNetwork architecture.

"It's still not clear architecturally how they all fit together," says Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research. "What's missing is the piece that fits in the middle, particularly in a mixed mode environment [of multivendor gear]). But it's certainly a step up from where they were in May. I'm happy to see them get to where they are."

Architectures aside, HP also introduced services to help customers navigate the transition from IPv4 to IPv6, and that its 10500 campus core switch, announced in May, is now shipping. HP also said Bethany Mayer, interim head of HP Networking since the departure of General Manager Marius Haas, is the unit's new senior vice president and general manager, effective immediately.

The 5900 switch starts at $38,000. It will be available in the first quarter of 2012. The 12500 with the IRF and IPv6 software is available this fall at no additional cost to existing 12500 users.

The 3800 switches are available now, starting at $4,969. The services modules for the 5400 and 8200 switches are available now, starting at $5,299 for VMware and $4,499 for Citrix.

IMC 5.1 will be available in the first quarter of 2012, at a price of $6,995.

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