The cloud's the limit for new Arista, Brocade and HP switches

Arista, HP and Brocade add scale, virtualization hooks to take platforms beyond the data center and raise the bar for forthcoming Cisco/ Insieme products.

Cloud scaling will be all the switching rage at this week’s Interop. Three major vendors last week took their platforms deeper into and then beyond the data center, outdueling each other on server access density and software programmability, two key attributes needed for the virtualized goldmine called the cloud. And in so doing, they have raised the bar and perhaps set the stage for one of the more anticipated announcements in SDN switching from Cisco spin-in Insieme.

Arista Networks, HP and Brocade unleashed new switches, modules and software, including SDN tools, designed to scale their platforms and fabric architectures into the hundreds of thousands of 10G-attached servers. The SDN tools are intended to enable automated provisioning and management of those large-scale environments through industry-blessed interfaces like OpenFlow and OpenStack.

Arista’s announcement of the 7500E modular spine switch, in particular, is leading to speculation on what Cisco’s Insieme spin-in might have coming later this year. Arista reloaded its 3-year-old 7500 with the 7500E, which among other goodies features 10/40/100G Ethernet interfaces – on the same port.

[AHEAD OF THE CURVE: How Arista Networks got out in front of the SDN craze]

The 7500E scales to 96 100G ports in a single 11 RU chassis, but Arista also took the 10G server access density far beyond what Juniper claimed for QFabric in 2011, and what HP quadrupled last week: 100,000 servers in a two-tier design vs. HP’s 24,000, and QFabric’s 6,000 in a single-tier.

“I think it is intended as a pre-emptive move on Arista's part,” says Brad Casemore, data center networking analyst at IDC. “It will be interesting to see whether they've anticipated Cisco's next move with Insieme.”

Some expect Cisco to spin-in Insieme and roll out its product line in the third or fourth quarter. Insieme is also believed to be working on a controller for its switches so they can be programmed in a Cisco ONE environment.

The 7500E is a 30Tbps, 14 billion packet/sec non-blocking switch housed in the same 11 RU chassis as the 7500. Densities per chassis are 1,152 10G, 288 40G or 96 100G Ethernet.

The most unique aspect of the Arista switch is its triple speed interfaces. They come 12 a board , and with embedded optics are software configurable between 10, 40 and 100G. Arista says these integrated optics in the line card modules offer a 10x reduction in the cost of deploying 100G – down to $10,000 per port, with optics.

Arista says the 7500E can support over a million VMs and software-defined automation through the switch’s Extensible Operating System (EOS). Through EOS, the 7500E supports Arista’s DANZ data analysis application for traffic visibility and tap-aggregation; Rapid Automated Indicator of Link-Loss (RAIL), for rapid convergence in big data analytics and Hadoop applications; VM Tracer, for network wide workload mobility; and Health Tracer, for switch level diagnostics and traceability of key performance indicators.

The 7500E series switches and line cards are available now. List prices start at $99,995 for the switch and $10,000 per 100G port, $2,200 per 40G and under $600 per 10G port.

Arista will have to fend off HP, which refreshed its switch line and fortified its SDN portfolio with three new systems and a router, along with management and provisioning software extensions.

In the core, HP unveiled the FlexFabric 12900, 16- and 10-slot chassis that are OpenFlow 1.3-enabled and can support up to 36Tbps of non-blocking fabric switching, according to HP. The 12900 sports up to 768 10G and 256 40G Ethernet ports, with IEEE Data Center Bridging and ANSI FibreChannel over Ethernet support and in-service software upgradability.

The 12900 also supports industry-defined fabric technologies TRILL and Shortest Path Bridging, which replace Spanning Tree with a multiple active path topology optimized for east-west traffic  flows between data center racks.

[FABRIC CHASE: Cisco's not on board, but is Shortest Path Bridging winning?]

The 12900 is aimed at Cisco’s Nexus 7000 ‘F’ and ‘M’ switches, and Juniper’s QFabric and EX9200.

In the aggregation layer, HP unveiled the 11908 switch, which is also supports OpenFlow 1.3. The 11908 features a 7.7Tbps non-blocking fabric that can support up to 384 10G and 64 40G Ethernet ports. Like the 12900, the 11908 also supports TRILL and SPB fabrics, FCoE and Data Center Bridging, and in-service software upgrades.

The 11908 is also aimed at Cisco’s Nexus 7000 and Juniper’s QFabric. HP claims a fourfold increase over Juniper in 10G fabric density – 24,000 to 6,000 – and twice that of Cisco.

HP also unveiled a virtual switch to run under server hypervisors. The FlexFabric Virtual Switch 5900v supports the IEEE’s Ethernet Virtual Bridging – aka “VEPA” – standard for offloading some switching capabilities from the server to a physical switch. The 5900v is optimized for VMware environments and supports mobility and management of network policies for virtual machines configured through VMware hypervisors.

The new router is called the HSR 6800. It combines routing, firewalling and VPN in a system with a 2Tbps backplane and 420Mbps of routing throughput. It supports 32 10G Ethernet ports and 687 microseconds recovery through HP’s Intelligent Resilient Framework virtual chassis capability.

The HSR 6800 is also “40/100-ready,” HP says. It will go up against Cisco’s ASR 1000 router.

Analysts say HP’s launch shows progress from the company in data center switching, and in its 4-year-old 3Com acquisition.

“These are behemoths of switches, and certainly give HP a product advantage,” says Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research.  “Also, the support for TRILL, SPB and DCB I thought was interesting as customers do not have to choose.”

Still, there might be some gaps for HP to fill, Kerravala notes.

“Is there any interoperability with the older H3C line?” he asks. “Customers may be faced with a rip and replace."

HP confirmed that modules from the 4-year-old 12500 and 10500 are not interchangable with the new 12900 and 11900 switches, respectively. HP did say though that the 12900 and 12500 share a common architecture, operating system and management.  

“In the data center, the networking products are great but I don't think HP has a broader ‘HP’ story, a la Cisco's Nexus + UCS,” Kerravala adds. “I agree that HP has all the parts, but they haven't built a great counter story.  Cisco customers rave about UCS and the ability to create service profiles that are for rapid creation of services.  HP has the networking products and needs to build a better ‘HP’ story.”

HP FlexFabric 12900 switches are expected to be available in October. HP says pricing will be available at that time. The 11908 switch is expected to be available worldwide in June at a starting price of $83,000.

Virtual switch 5900v is expected to be available in October. Pricing will be available at that time. The HSR 6800 router series is available now at a starting price of $46,000.

Brocade’s hardware and software enhancements are designed to better integrate and align physical and virtual resources.

For virtual networking, Brocade rolled out the vRouter virtual router, obtained from its recent acquisition of open source networking software company Vyatta; and the Virtual ADX Application Delivery Switch. For physical networking, the company unveiled new modules for its MLXe core router and NetIron Carrier Ethernet switch, as well as updated operating system software for that product.

[WOVEN IN: Brocade brings fabrics to campus networks]

The Brocade Vyatta 5400 vRouter is software for highly virtualized data centers. It is designed to enable the configuration of multitier networks that can be deployed, configured or changed on demand. Brocade Vyatta vRouter is already deployed in Amazon Web Services, and supports VMware, Microsoft, Citrix and Red Hat hypervisors.

Release 6.6 of the vRouter includes support for multicast routing and dynamic multipoint VPN (DMVPN), for secure transmission of content to selected end-points.

Brocade Virtual ADX is designed to increase the speed of application resource and services deployment for cloud environments. The software controls application management and provisioning via the SOAP/XML API, enabling integration with third-party or homegrown orchestration and automation tools, Brocade says.

That API, along with support for OpenScript, allows for programmatic control of Layer 4-7 functions in a virtualized infrastructure, the company says. Virtual ADX is also intended to simplify orchestration of the application delivery network, and provide the ability to validate, test and replicate production or quality assurance environments on demand.

For physical networking, Brocade rolled out 40G Ethernet interfaces for its MLXe core router, higher-performance modules for the NetIron CER Routers and expanded SDN capabilities in the NetIron OS.

The new four-port 40G Ethernet module for the MLXe features wire-speed performance for connecting with Brocade VDX/VCS fabric switches to construct an end-to-end, multitenant 40G data center. It also allows the router to support 128 40G ports per chassis.competition from Arista Networks.

The 40G-enabled MLXe will go up against Cisco’s Nexus 7000 and 6000 switches, and Catalyst 6500 with 40G interfaces;  Juniper’s EX9200 and QFabric switches; HP’s new 12900 and 11900 switches; and those from Dell, Extreme, Huawei, Alcatel-Lucent and other Ethernet switching combatants. It may also soon face core 40G

For smaller data centers that are integrated into Carrier Ethernet networks, Brocade’s new four-port 10G modules for the NetIron switches are designed to extend the reach of Carrier Ethernet and enable rapid deployment of new services at the network edge.

The updated operating system software for the NetIron switches enhance high-performance routing and SDN capabilities, Brocade says. The new release supports OpenFlow Hybrid Port Mode technology, to help customers simultaneously deploy OpenFlow and traditional routing on the same port for a migration path to SDN.

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 25 years, 21 at Network World. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on Twitter @Jim_Duffy.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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