HP Puts SDN Strategy In High Gear With New FlexFabric Switches

Hewlett-Packard this week rolled out a number of data center fabric solutions aimed at organizations embracing the cloud and the burgeoning software-defined networking trend.

HP described its new series of FlexFabric solutions -- which include both physical and virtual switches -- as its most significant networking product launch of the past several years.

"This is our largest announcement in the data center for at least two to three years," said Bethany Mayer, senior vice president and general manager of the HP Networking segment. "It's a huge announcement for us and will provide the ability to both switch and route in virtual as well as physical environments -- so it's bridging virtual and physical environments -- and all the products are OpenFlow-enabled and capable of being used in an SDN environment."

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The aim of HP's new FlexFabric solutions -- along with that of rival data center fabrics from companies including Cisco Systems, Juniper Networks and Dell -- is to simplify network management and make data center infrastructures more programmable, scalable and easier to automate. The rise of cloud computing and big data technologies has made network programmability and scalability more necessary than ever, Mayer said.

"The network has been very fragile and difficult to manage for many, many years," Mayer told CRN. "So HP Networking's entire focus and the value prop we offer is being able to simplify the network, being able to automate it, being apple to virtualize the network, and to provide open standards-based capabilities for the network to allow for choice."

HP last year committed to adding support for the OpenFlow protocol to its entire switching line by the end of 2013. Mayer said this goal still stands.

HP's new FlexFabric lineup consists of the HP FlexFabric 12900 core and OpenFlow-enabled switch series, which HP said are optimized for virtualized workloads by managing spikes in bandwidth and accelerating the pace at which data moves across the network. According to HP, its new 12900 series can support up to 768 10 GbE ports or up to 256 40 GbE ports.

HP also unveiled the HP FlexFabric 5900 switch, which comes in both a physical or virtual model that is optimized for VMware environments, along with its new FlexFabric 11908 aggregation switch, which HP is touting as the industry's first aggregation switch to be OpenFlow-enabled.

Also introduced through the FlexFabric launch was HP's new Virtualized Services Router (VSR), which leverages software-based network function virtualization technologies to streamline the delivery of services on a virtual machine. The new VSR also can be used to extend enterprise routing policies to the cloud, HP said.

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Mayer said FlexFabric will help HP channel partners target a range of data center customers, including large enterprises, midsize companies and cloud service providers. The aggregation switch, for instance, can serve as a small data center core switch, while the 12900 is ideal for larger organizations or cloud providers, Mayer said.

"The data center market is a fast-growing market segment, so to have such a variety of new products for the data center is a big win for channel partners," Mayer said. "Now they can offer -- depending on their customer's need -- a different type of switch, a different size of switch, a different port density and different capabilities."

Marc Sarazin, executive vice president and general manager of Northeast sales at AdvizeX Technologies, a Burlington, Mass.-based solution provider, said the FlexFabric line will help AdvizeX better meet the needs of customers looking to roll out SDN capabilities.

"With the announcement of HP FlexFabric products and solutions, FlexFabric provides the simplicity, scale and automation our customer needs today and for the future," Sarazin said.

Sarazin, an HP partner for more than 25 years, also said the launch of FlexFabric ensures AdvizeX can continue "to grow a robust HP Networking practice."

HP's Networking unit is one of the company's strongest financially. The unit is valued at roughly $2.5 billion, according to Mayer, and has grown year-over-year for the past 13 consecutive quarters.