HP's FlexNetwork Architecture Ramps Up War With Cisco

Hewlett-Packard Monday went live with HP FlexNetwork, an architecture for converged networking in the data center, campus and branch that HP says will allow enterprises to leverage virtualization, mobility and cloud computing much more flexibly.

HP was set to make the announcement in a press conference in Las Vegas Monday, in line with the kickoff of Interop, where some of HP's top executives, including David Donatelli, executive vice president and general manager for HP's Enterprise Servers, Storage and Networking (ESSN) business, are scheduled to speak.

The FlexNetwork architecture approach, with which HP is also debuting several new products in various HP Networking lines, is also HP's latest challenge to Cisco, which has for some time promoted the idea of converged networking and data center architectures for enterprise computing and is nearly two years into Borderless Networks, one of its architectural visions.

The architecture trend among channel-facing networking and data center vendors has firmly caught on. FlexNetwork, for example, also follows last week's CloudPlex announcement from Brocade, which is also intended to combine compute, storage and networking components into a single converged architecture with an eye toward enterprise cloud computing requirements.

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FlexNetwork, according to HP, eliminates networking "silos" to speed service delivery for customers across data center, campus and branch networks. In a statement, HP said that "single-vendor, proprietary approaches, such as Cisco's, lock in customers while driving up cost and complexity with different architectures required at each point in the network, including data center, campus and branch."

It's the latest in an increasingly bitter war of words between the two companies -- one that finds Cisco playing defense as HP Networking makes gains against Cisco's core networking businesses. Cisco, which has been criticized for its end-to-end network architecture approach that some say costs customers more than they need to be paying, recently took to the Web to illustrate the differences between its single-vendor network vision and what it calls "commodity networking" companies.

Mike Banic, vice president of marketing, HP Networking, said in an interview with CRN that HP's FlexNetwork architecture will solve the problem of "disjointed networking architectures" and help customers evolve from "stifling" legacy network approaches.

"FlexNetwork is what we've observed our own customers doing -- the process they went through to start to introduce HP solutions," Banic said. "We've now come up with a framework for how to lather, rinse and repeat that. This is going to make it easy to migrate to HP Networking."

NEXT: HP's New Products For FlexNetwork

FlexNetwork is three elements: FlexFabric, which simplifies data center infrastructure by converging network, computing and storage resources across both virtual and physical environments; FlexCampus, for easier access to content across converged wired and wireless networks; and FlexBranch, for extending network computing and security to the branch office.

Tying them together is FlexManagement: a single-pane-of-glass platform for managing the various technologies and services in a FlexNetwork architecture. According to Banic, FlexManagement can manage technologies by other vendors in HP's AllianceOne partner program.

Among the new products HP is rolling out in line with FlexNetwork is a new line of campus core switches, the HP A-series 10500 line. According to Banic, the 10500 line can deliver 3-microsecond latency -- in theory, nearly 75 percent lower than a comparable Cisco Catalyst switch, the 6509 -- and 128 wire-speed 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports. The 10500 line is expected to be available in the second half of 2011 and list starting at $38,000.

Nearly all of HP's new or refreshed gear is targeted as a Cisco alternative. Following the A-series 10500 is a refresh for HP's E5400 and E820 switches -- which HP is positioning as 90 percent lower latency and 600 percent higher throughput than Cisco Catalyst 4506 switches -- and also for the HP E-MSM460 and E-MSM466, wireless access points that can deliver 15 high-definition video streams per AP and compare to Cisco's 1140 and 3500 series APs.

Also new Monday is an update to HP's Intelligent Management Center, effectively the brains of its FlexNetwork management offering. IMC Version 5, as HP's calling it, manages the entire HP Networking portfolio and more than 2,600 devices from more than 35 vendors, including Cisco.

Version 5 will be available in June in the U.S. with a list price of $6,995, and another version, 5.1, will launch by the end of the year and include automatic synchronization for HP Networking tools with HP Virtual Connect technology.

Last is a security appliance: the TippingPoint S6100N IPS, which continues HP's expansion of the TippingPoint security portfolio HP acquired with 3Com more than a year ago.

Key to the S6100N appliance is that it automatically builds in protection for virtual machines as they're created and moved around in the network architecture. It leverages HP's TippingPoint Secure Virtualization Framework, and HP has built in deeper interoperability between the HP TippingPoint vController and VMware vShield for added cloud security. The appliance can inspect up to 16 Gbps of application traffic in realtime and is available now for a list price of $209,995.

According to Banic, HP will aggressively release more products and services under the FlexNetwork banner and work to build out a full complement of partner resources, too, including reference architectures that have been validated across HP ESSN's various units.

"The entire portfolio has a prescriptive place in the FlexNetwork architecture," he said. "This is only the first round of new, innovative product delivery based on FlexNetwork. The market is going to hear from us consistently."