HP counters Cisco with new switches, architecture

HP's new network architecture, products aimed at rival's enterprise incumbency

LAS VEGAS -- At Interop this week, HP unveiled products supporting a new architecture that attempts to unify enterprise data center, campus and branch networks under a common and consistent operating environment.

HP's FlexNetwork architecture is a network-specific subset of HP's Converged Infrastructure plan, a strategy to create virtual pools of server, storage and networking resources to run business operations. FlexNetwork is focused on the network piece of the Converged Infrastructure.

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The FlexNetwork architecture proposes implementing protocols consistently across all networked devices throughout an enterprise. It also proposes consistent management, security and access policies across that infrastructure.

With the plan, HP is looking to disrupt Cisco's Borderless Networks strategy, which essentially proposes the same thing: Use Cisco equipment and protocols across all areas of the enterprise network to gain consistency in performance and management.

HP, though, claims to adhere more tightly to standards and multivendor acceptance, and admonishes competitors like Cisco for being proprietary and resistant to multivendor support. HP also claims these competitors propose different technologies at different points in the enterprise network -- campus vs. data center, for example -- which makes it difficult and costly to roll out new applications and services.

HP is even offering services to help enterprises move from Cisco's EIGRP and other protocols to routing protocols such as OSPFv2 and v3.

The HP FlexNetwork architecture consists of several components HP says are unified through a common management layer. They include:

• FlexFabric, which is designed to converge network, compute and storage resources in the data center across virtual and physical environments and accommodate hybrid cloud computing models;

• FlexCampus, which is designed to lower latency and increase security with identity-based access to multimedia content across wired and wireless networks;

• FlexBranch, which attempts to assemble "best-of-breed" network and security technologies at the branch to improve service delivery;

• FlexManagement, which provides single-pane-of-glass management across the FlexNetwork architecture.

HP says an architecture like FlexNetwork is necessary because legacy networks cannot handle the new demands put on the network by virtualization, mobility and multimedia. Moreover, legacy enterprise networks were built as departmental islands specific to certain applications, such as data center, campus, branch, wired and wireless, HP says.

HP says server-to-server traffic in the data center is approaching 80% due to the increase in virtualization, resulting in performance bottlenecks. The company also says 25% of enterprise network traffic is now video or multimedia content that consumes a lot of bandwidth and challenges enterprise security policies.

By 2013, there will be 3 billion smartphones, and wireless LAN will be the preferred method of network connectivity, requiring wireless performance that is equal or superior to wired, HP says.

The company is addressing that with FlexNetwork and its new underpinnings: the A-series 10500 campus core switch, upgraded 5400zl and 8200zl switches, a new network management applications and a new intrusion prevention system (IPS).

The A10500 features 128 wire-speed 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports and 3 microsecond latency, which HP claims represents 270% higher density and 75% lower latency than Cisco's Catalyst 6500 campus core switch. For large campuses, four A10500 switches can be grouped together as a single virtual switch with 320 wire-speed 10G Ethernet ports.

The switch features up to 11Tbps of capacity and 1.9 billion packet/sec of performance.

The A10500 will support 100G Ethernet with the addition of new line cards, HP says. The company will demonstrate 40G Ethernet on the switch at Interop this week.

At the access layer of the FlexNetwork, HP refreshed its E5400 and E8200 switches, which the company claims deliver up to 90% lower latency and 600% higher throughput than Cisco's Catalyst 4500. The switches support up to 288 wire-speed Gigabit Ethernet ports per chassis, and less than 3 microsecond latency.

For FlexNetwork's wireless component, HP unveiled the E-MSM460 and E-MSM466 802.11n wireless access points. HP says these products deliver wire-like performance of 15 HD video streams per access point.

For management, HP unveiled Intelligent Management Center (IMC) 5, which is designed to manage, from a single console, the entire HP networking portfolio as well as more than 2,600 network devices from 35 vendors.

IMC version 5 discovers virtual machines, virtual switches and their relationship to the physical network, HP says. And an upcoming IMC version 5.1 will add synchronization of network connectivity with HP server blades. This will automate the process of creating a server profile, and aid in establishing "one button" cloud provisioning, HP says.

Securing FlexNetwork, meanwhile, requires the new HP TippingPoint IPS S6100N appliance. It's designed as a single security appliance for physical, virtual and cloud environments, providing up to 16Gbps of deep-packet inspection, a 60% increase over prior IPS offerings from HP.

The HP A10500 campus core switch is expected to ship in the second half of 2011 with a list price starting at $38,000. IMC 5.0 is planned to be available in June with a list price of $6,995. IMC 5.1 is expected to be available by the end of the year.

The TippingPoint S6100N appliance is available now at a list price of $209,995.

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