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HP Details SDN Strategy, Announces New Products

HP is going all-in on software defined networks, announcing new switch support for OpenFlow, a forthcoming SDN controller and set of SDN-related applications.

This week at Interop New York, HP announced its strategy for software defined networking (SDN), an emerging set of standards and technologies that aim to automate and simplify networking via programmable interfaces. HP announced that its 3800 family of campus switches now supports OpenFlow, a standard that lets a controller interact with switches and routers. The company also announced a virtual controller and SDN applications for security and load balancing. The controller and applications are currently in beta. HP expects them to be available in 2013.

"This is network virtualization," says Bethany Mayer, senior VP and general manager of HP Networking. "And it's not just low-level APIs. It's a single point of control for the network using OpenFlow to provision and modify the forwarding path of packets across the infrastructure. And we offer open APIs to support new applications we are developing along the way."

Mayer said that HP's vision encompasses three core layers for SDN: the infrastructure, a controller and applications. At the infrastructure layer, HP now supports OpenFlow across four switch families: the 8200, 5400, 3500 lines, and the newly announced support for the 3800 line.

At the controller layer, the company announced the Virtual Application Networks SDN Controller. With general availability anticipated in 2013, the controller will be available as an appliance or software. The controller serves as a crucial link in the SDN chain; it automates network configurations at one end, and exposes APIs to network and business applications at the other.

At the application layer, HP has announced two applications, currently in beta, designed to run in an SDN environment. The HP Virtual Cloud Networks application is aimed at service providers. It is designed to let a provider's customers self-provision a cloud environment. Another is the HP Sentinel Security application that "automates network access control and intrusion prevention for enterprise campus networks," according to the company. HP says HBO is running a beta test of the security application.

HP has also announced a set of services to help customers transition to an SDN environment, including a network provisioning baseline assessment service and an SDN proof-of-concept service. "You can have your existing network and roll this on top of it," says Saar Gillai VP and general manager, Cloud Networking, and CTO of the Advanced Technology Group of HP Networking. "We don't see people throwing out everything and putting a controller on top. We see people integrating [SDN]."

The concept of SDN has roiled the networking business, and most vendors have either announced or shipped SDN-related products. For instance, NEC offers both a controller and OpenFlow-enabled switches, and the company is partnering with IBM to bring more products to the market. IBM also offers switches that support OpenFlow, including its RackSwitch G8264 and G8264T models.

Of course, Cisco Systems has also weighed in. This June the company announced its own strategy for SDN, called the Open Network Environment, or ONE. A key component of that initiative is Cisco onePK, a set of APIs and SDKs for developers. The company has also announced controller software, which is expected to debut in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Bob Laliberte, a senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group, says HP's and Cisco's strategies are very different. "HP is taking a an OpenFlow approach to SDNs. Cisco is only planning on making one switch OpenFlow-enabled and creating a controller for universities to experiment with. Another major piece of the Cisco strategy is the virtual network overlay, which will leverage the Nexus 1000v." By contrast, he says, HP will use its forthcoming SDN controller to communicate with virtual switches.

While vendors are positioning themselves to have an SDN story for customers, customers are adopting a wait-and-see attitude. For instance, 48% of IT pros say they are only somewhat familiar with SDN, according to new research from InformationWeek. When asked about barriers to SDN adoption, the two highest responses were a lack of product maturity and confusion about vendors' strategies. Drew is formerly editor of Network Computing and currently director of content and community for Interop. View Full Bio

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