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HP finally outlines its SDN strategy

It took a little while, compared to others, but HP has joined the SDN race.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know there’s no single technology trend that has more hype and mania around it than “software defined networks.” It’s this era’s “2.0,” or the technology equivalent of Andrew Luck. Lots of hype, plenty of potential, but has yet to produce anything. To date, almost every leading vendor has outlined an SDN strategy, but the one missing vendor has been the No. 2 market share leader, HP. After interviews with a number of HP customers and channel partners it appears HP is ready to unveil its SDN strategy.

From a vision perspective, there’s really nothing unique about what HP is doing - they’re focused on IT agility through the decoupling of control and data plane. HP has extended the value proposition of this to applications through a number of open APIs similar to what Avaya, Brocade and Cisco are doing. What’s not clear to me is who the application partners will be at time of launch, if any, but its support of applications is consistent with the rest of the industry.

Supporting the vision, HP announced OpenFlow support for the current 16 models of switches and released a new series of switches, HP 3800s that also have OpenFlow support. I believe there are 9 new stackables in the series, pushing HP’s number of OpenFlow-supported switches to 25. OpenFlow is widely supported today, so HP’s implementation of it is a logical move for the company.

To compliment the line of switches, HP plans to develop its own SDN controller, which appears to be scheduled for general availability in late 2013. This is a curious move as there are already so many controllers on the market. I’d rather see HP support as many controllers as possible, rather than build its own. However, as I’ve said before, the SDN wars have become a game of stacks, and HP is choosing to build an end-to-end stack. If you’ve got Cisco’s share this probably is the right approach, but HP’s No. 2 share position in networking is primarily made up of edge switching, meaning they’re a minority share player in the data center. HP’s best approach would be interoperability, which is something ProCurve has focused on since its inception.

The unique attribute HP can bring to SDNs, though, is a heavy services focus. HP has one of the largest services organizations in the industry and much of what will make a customer SDN deployment a success is the planning, deployment and ongoing management. Cisco’s approach is to train and certify its channel, whereas HP’s will be to leverage its massive service organization. This is the right approach for HP as its channel isn’t nearly as big or as well developed as what Cisco has. Cisco’s focus on channel partners, I believe, has greater long-term value, but HP could get some quick wins and rapid scale through its own services organization.

Considering HP’s server footprint, I was expecting something in this area as well. I was never actually formally briefed, so all of my information came through HP customers and competitive channel, so it’s possible I just haven’t been made aware of what they’re doing in this area. Overall, it’s a solid announcement though, and I’ll wish HP a most hearty welcome to the SDN battlefield. Better late than never!

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