HP claims that a unified architecture is needed because today's networks have grown too complex. The many different management systems they use means that they lack the flexibility needed to take full advantage of virtualization. "Networks are at breaking point: too many layers, too many devices, too many OSes," Michael Nielsen, director of solutions at HP networking, said in an interview. "Legacy network are stifling innovation and collaboration, and by legacy I mean Cisco."
Like switch fabrics from other vendors, FlexNetwork aims to simplify networks by pushing a flatter design that eliminates the aggregation layer traditionally seen between the core and access layers. HP said that this can reduce latency 25-fold, as well as dramatically simplify networks by reducing the need for protocols like spanning tree.
Flattening networks also cuts down on superfluous traffic, as cloud computing means that most network traffic is now travelling between two servers rather than between servers and clients; Nielsen estimates that server and storage virtualization now account for at least 75% of network traffic, a proportion HP expects to increase.
HP said that FlexNetwork is different from competitors' offerings in that it can fully utilize an enterprise's existing network assets, with FlexManagement software able to unite routers, switches, and wireless access points from multiple vendors. In total, HP said it can support for more than 2,600 devices from 35 different manufacturers, including more than 1,000 from Cisco.
This will let some customers boost core capacity simply by transferring existing switches from the former aggregation layer to the core--something that at first seems a counterintuitive upgrade, as core switches traditionally have more horsepower than those at the periphery, Nielsen said. However, that is not the case, he said. "That's the ideal, but for a lot of customers it's not the reality," he said. "We're seeing a lot with the same hardware in the aggregation layer and in the core."
So what makes HP different from every other vendor preaching openness? "I want to give credit to Juniper, Extreme, Force10--they're doing a lot of innovation," Nielsen admitted, "but they're focused on the data center. FlexNetwork covers the whole enterprise." In addition to its existing data center fabric, HP is pushing a fabric-like design for campus networks based around its new A10500 line of switches. Each of these offers 128 Ethernet ports at 10 Gbps, with future line cards reaching 100 Gbps. Two of the switches can be linked together to form a 208-port virtual switch.
HP is also launching higher-rate line cards for its E5400 and E8200 campus switches, new Wi-Fi access points, and a new, higher-capacity version of its TippingPoint IPS that it said is built for virtualization. The TippingPoint S6100N offers deep packet inspection at wire speeds of up to 16 Gbps, detecting problems within virtual machines. Like other TippingPoint products, it's backed by Digital Vaccine Labs (DVLabs), HP's threat analysis team, and managed by HP's TippingPoint vController, which HP said now offers improved interoperability with VMWare's vShield.