HP readies for Cisco's data center assault

HP ProCurve networking joins the battle with first data center-optimized switches, server module

HP ProCurve debuts first switches built specifically for data center applications, plus a server module so users can integrate switching and application processing.

HP ProCurve this week will unveil its first switches built specifically for data center applications, as well as a server module for existing switches that enables users to begin integrating and consolidating switching and application processing.

HP, a fixture for decades in data center server racks, is broadening the role of its ProCurve networking arm in those compute-intensive environments just as Cisco is about to step into the data center server fray. Cisco's 'California' blade servers, which will reportedly integrate switching, application processing and virtualization in a single platform, are expected late in the second quarter.

The release of California also is expected to strain relations between Cisco and HP (and also IBM), which previously have collaborated on complementary data center opportunities for networking and servers.

"This is clearly a demonstration of HP really taking ProCurve in the enterprise and leveraging other HP strengths," says Jon Oltsik, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. "HP's certainly in the data center business and for the first time ever they're talking about handling all communications, too. HP is looking at where it can succeed in the enterprise networking market and picking its battles strategically."

HP's weapons for this battle include a new 1RU switch line optimized for top-of-rack data center switching applications. The 6600 line includes five 1 Gigabit and 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches, available in a variety of configurations.

The 6600 24-G sports 24 1Gbps RJ-45 ports and four 1Gbps SFP ports. It has a 48Gbps switch fabric and a throughput of 36 million packets/sec.

The 6600 24-G-4XG has 24 1Gbps RJ-45 ports, four 1Gbps SFP ports and four 10Gbps SFP+ interfaces. It has a switching capacity of 101Gbps and a throughput of 74 million packets/sec.

The 6600-48G features 48 1Gbps RJ-45 ports, four 1Gbps SFP ports, a 96Gbps switch fabric and throughput of 72 million packets/sec. The 6600-48G-4XG has four 10Gbps SFP+ ports instead of the four 1Gbps SFP interfaces. It has a switching capacity of 152Gbps and a throughput of 131 million packets/sec.

The 6600 24-XG has 24 10Gbps SFP+ ports, a switching capacity of 336Gbps and a throughput of 214 million packets/sec.

HP ProCurve also is unveiling a management application designed to provide automated, policy-based provisioning of network and server resources. The ProCurve Data Center Connection Manager coordinates common data center workflow activities, helps ease compliance and troubleshooting, and works with multivendor servers and networks, HP says.

The server module for HP ProCurve's 8200 and 5400 zl switches is called the ProCurve ONE Services zl Module. It is based on an Intel T7500 Core 2 Duo processor with 4GB of memory, 4GB of Flash memory and a 250GB hard drive.

It sports two 10Gbps Ethernet connections to the switch backplane, and future capabilities include virtualization, scalability, other form factors, and closer coupling with the switch management and forwarding plane, HP says.

The modules runs software applications from Microsoft (security and network access), McAfee (Web security, filtering and IPS), Avaya (unified communications), F5 Networks (application delivery control and load balancing), Riverbed (WAN optimization), and others. The zl module can only run one application per module, but two modules can run in one 8200 or 5400 switch chassis.

"It provides best-of-breed options for the customer – if you look at the list of partners, it's a Who's Who of those markets,"  says Zeus Kerravala of The Yankee Group. "On the downside, Cisco's able to integrate a lot of the capabilities together. Cisco gets a little bit of an advantage there because they can use the feedback from one [application] to modify another, etc."

The City College of San Francisco is using the zl module to run a network monitoring application from HP partner InMon Corp.

"InMon's Traffic Sentinel on the module handled all the sFlow reporting we threw at it with lower CPU utilization rates than our production server," says Glen Van Lehn, network engineer at the college. "A real-time query like 'list TCP:25 [e-mail] connections for past week made by any station where destination isn't our e-mail server' identifies possible virus infected stations. The module's drive capacity allowed me to collect 90 days of traffic data. The integrated USB port powered an external drive to back up the data. It worked well."

Traffic Sentinel is a Web-based Linux application that does not require direct keyboard, mouse and monitor access. Van Lehn can configure the application from any Web browser.

"This gave me a server with zero footprint -- no extra space (assuming empty slot), no extra electrical outlets or UPS outlets, and no extra Ethernet ports as the two 10Gb interfaces plug directly into the backplane," he says.

The 6600 switches are priced from $4,699 to $17,999 and will be available in the first half of this year. The Data Center Connection Manager software costs $27,100, and the controller for the software costs $32,000. Both will be available in the second quarter.

The Services zl Module costs $5,995 and will be available in February.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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