HP unveils Cisco-like SDN switch

hp flex fabric 7900 switch series
Credit: HP
hp flex fabric 7900 switch series HP

HP this week will unveil a software-defined networking switch and application that add bulk to the company’s 50-switch SDN arsenal and should enable it to compete more directly with Cisco and Arista on this front.

The switch, being unveiled at HP’s annual Discover customer conference in Las Vegas, is called the FlexFabric datacenter 7900 series. It is a nonblocking Layer 2/3 Clos switch with 40G interfaces and support for OpenFlow, and VXLAN and NVGRE tunneling for network virtualization. It is designed to integrate the virtual overlay with the physical underlay networks to create a unified fabric for network visibility, availability and response time, and for supporting rapid workload mobility for VMware vSphere vMotion environments.

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The physical/virtual fabric integration, as well as the 7900’s midplane-free chassis design, are similar to Cisco’s new Nexus 9500 switches. The midplane-free chassis design is intended to deliver increased system reliability and optimal airflow by eliminating the mid-plane and connecting line cards directly to the onboard fabric card.

The 7900 scales up to 48 40G Ethernet ports. It delivers up to 3.84Tbps switching capacity across four interface module slots, and 2.38 billion packet/sec throughput for 64-byte packets in a 2RU form factor.

The Cisco Nexus 9500s, however, feature greater 40G port density than HP’s 7900. The 7RU Nexus 9504 scales up to 144 40G ports. Meanwhile, the fixed port, 2RU Nexus 9336PQ ACI spine switch supports 36 40G ports in a 2.88Tbps switch with front-to-back airflow. Also, Cisco’s Nexus 6004 switch is twice as big as HP’s 7900, supporting 96 40G ports in a 4RU modular form factor.

The HP 7900 also supports OSPF, BGP, and IS-IS routing protocols, the Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol, and the Device Link Detection Protocol for monitoring link connectivity and preventing loops in Spanning Tree networks.

In addition to competing vs. Cisco’s Nexus 9500, 9300 and 6004 switches, the HP 7900 will go up against Juniper’s EX9216, which supports 48 40G ports in a 16RU chassis; and the QFX5100-24Q, which supports 32 40G ports in 1RU. It will also go up against Arista Networks’ 7250Qx-64, which supports up to 64 40G ports and 5.12Tbps in 2RU for spine and middle/end-of-row deployments; and the 7050X, which supports 32 40G ports and 2.56Tbps for spine and leaf applications.

"I see this as a me-too [product]," says Forrester Research analyst Andre Kindness on the HP 7900 switch.  "It seems like Arista really set the new trend of 2U fixed form factor in the core when they released the 7250QX-64 in late 2013.”

Kindness adds: “The religious war between fixed and chassis has moved to the core.   With the increased churn in network technology occurring in the [data center], customers feel that fixed form factors are less of risk over the more expensive costs of chassis.  Plus new technology and protocols appear in fixed form factor much earlier than a chassis."

The HP 7900 starts at $55,500.

hp neutron

HP SDN app

HP’s SDN application is Virtual Cloud Networking, network virtualization software designed to work with HP’s recently announced Helion OpenStack distribution to automate network service and speed application deployment in private and hybrid clouds. VCN is designed to enhance the Neutron networking capability in OpenStack and help cloud providers and enterprises build a multitenant network infrastructure that is able to deliver compute, storage, and networking-as-a-service, on demand.

"VCN really constitutes HP's enhancements to OpenStack Neutron, which in turns fits into HP's broader hybrid-cloud strategy for OpenStack," says Brad Casemore of research firm IDC.

VCN works with HP’s Virtual Application Networks (VAN) SDN controller and leverages OpenFlow to create unified control for the deployment of policy on both the virtual -- Open vSwitch -- and physical networks. It provides a multitenant network virtualization service for KVM open source and VMware ESX hypervisors, with multitenant isolation provided by centrally orchestrated VLAN or VXLAN-based virtual networks operating over L2 or L3 data center fabrics.

Non-virtualized bare-metal servers and appliances can be supported in a VXLAN environment with the addition of HP 5930 switches to provide the hardware tunnel end-point function, HP says. In a fully virtualized deployment, the existing data center switching infrastructure can be retained, the company says.

HP recommends OpenFlow 1.3-enabled devices to “realize the full benefit” of SDN-based data center applications.

VCN will be available in August as part of the Helion OpenStack distribution.

To deploy VCN, the 7900 switch and a software-defined network, HP unveiled a new service called Trusted Network Transformation. Trusted Network Transformation advises on strategy, assessment, design and deployment, and includes management tools, support, training and life cycle program management across all transformational elements, HP says.

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