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HP and Cisco Take Different Paths To SDN

News that Cisco Systems may release proprietary networking products implementing software-defined networking (SDN) technology, but not necessarily based on the emerging OpenFlow protocol, has executives at rival HP complaining about another Cisco vendor lock-in play. During a news event at HP Thursday, at which the company announced OpenFlow capability available for 16 HP networking product lines, executives were asked to comment on a news report from the Cisco Live event going on this week in London.

There, Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior reportedly outlined Cisco's SDN strategy but did not mention OpenFlow as the protocol on which it would be based. "It appears Cisco will go proprietary on its SDN strategy," according to a report. The report also quoted another Cisco executive saying that "at this point, we don't think [OpenFlow] is production-ready."

Asked to respond, Bethany Mayer, senior VP and general manager of the HP Networking business, said Cisco and HP have very strong differences on support for standards-based versus proprietary technology.

"It is at the heart of a philosophy at HP that we remain open with open standards so that we can be interoperable with the other networking vendors in the industry. If they have decided to go the proprietary route, frankly, that's bad for the customers," said Mayer.

OpenFlow is a protocol developed at Stanford University, and HP Labs was present at the creation in 2007, working alongside Stanford researchers, said Charles Clark, an HP distinguished technologist and director of research in HP Networking. The idea behind it is that the intelligence in the network--to route packets, prioritize traffic, minimize latency, enforce quality of service (QoS) policies and provide security--is moved from network switches and routers to a software-based controller. Hence, the term software-defined networks.

The Open Network Foundation (ONF) is a community of academic researchers, networking vendors and companies managing their enterprise networks that is developing the OpenFlow protocol, evangelizing it and helping to bring it to market.

At the HP event in Cupertino, Calif., Dan Pitt, executive director of the ONF, said Cisco is also a member of the group, as are other networking vendors, and that "everybody is contributing in good faith."

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