HP Broadens OpenFlow Support With 16 Switch Models

Looking to broaden its market influence over the emerging OpenFlow networking protocol, HP on Thursday said it will make OpenFlow-enabled versions of 16 of its switch models available for commercial sale. HP plans to provide similar OpenFlow support across all switches under its FlexNetwork architecture by the end of the year.

As a switching and communications protocol, OpenFlow has garnered considerable interest in recent years for the way it addresses packet routing on a software layer that's separate from a network's physical infrastructure. OpenFlow's proponents point to its flexibility, in that OpenFlow-supported controllers and send instructions to any OpenFlow-enabled switch, regardless of manufacturer. That flexibility makes OpenFlow, in theory, a glove-fit for virtualized networks because it makes them that much easier to customize and program around.

HP has supported OpenFlow on its switches for four years, but buying OpenFlow switches from HP required a special license, said Saar Gillai, vice president, Advanced Technology Group and CTO for HP Networking. The difference now is that HP is making those switches broadly commercially available, and its existing switch customers can enable OpenFlow via a software update.

"We've seen very strong demand for it, so we're pushing it out," Gillai told CRN this week. "This is a tier one vendor putting out commercial-grade OpenFlow support across a fairly wide product set. We believe this is going to speed up the adoption and use of OpenFlow among customers."

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The initial 16 models covered in HP's update include HP's 3500, 4500 and 8200 switch lines, HP said.

Among top-tier networking and switch vendors like Cisco and Juniper, HP's support for OpenFlow has been the most vocal. The company is also a founding member of the Open Networking Foundation.

Bethany Mayer, senior vice president and general manager for HP Networking, recently said that HP "has the largest substantiation of OpenFlow in our product portfolio of anyone else in the industry."

"Network virtualization is going to be very important for us, and we have what we think is a very unique and significant management platform," Mayer told CRN in January.

As OpenFlow and the broader software-defined networking (SDN) movement gain traction, Industry observers are trying to get a sense of how big vendors like Cisco and Juniper will address OpenFlow. Juniper, for example, has added OpenFlow to its SDK for Junos, its data center and networking operating system. Cisco has said it will add OpenFlow to its Nexus data center switches.

But a common argument is that OpenFlow and SDN could prove potentially damaging to long-dominant switch players like Cisco for how the technology could further commoditize the switch market. Gillai says he's not so sure that's the case.

"There is a school of thought that talks about commoditization," Gillai acknowledged. "But it's also about flexibility. Look at wireless, where access points used to have all the control. We moved to the controller model, and that gave customers more flexibility in deployment. OpenFlow is going to enable some really interesting capabilities in what you can do."

Gillai and Charles Clark, distinguished technologist at HP Networking, told CRN that HP was seeing across-the-board interest from potential customers, whether academic, or service provider, or enterprise. The common thread, they said, was customer interest in having very granular control of their network elements and having a standardized way to effect that control.

"In almost every customer engagement, there are discussions about it," Gillai said. "People at the very least want to know what your plans are, and you do see customers that have specific plans around how they might want to use it. So HP is not just talking about it, we're implementing it."