Huawei Cements SDN Strategy With 'Agile' Switch Series

Huawei is coming to market with a new programmable switch it says will go head-to-head with Cisco's Catalyst 6800 series while giving its burgeoning U.S. channel a greater play in the high-end Ethernet switching market.

"I wouldn't call this our answer to Cisco's SDN [software-defined networking] strategy, but would call this our answer to Cisco's programmable switches," Ajay Gupta, director of product marketing and management at Huawei, said of the new Huawei Agile S12700 family of switches introduced last week.

According to Gupta, the new Agile S12700 series, slated for general availability in the first quarter of 2014, is poised to be one of the most programmable and flexible Ethernet switches on the market, enabling campus networks to better support trends like the cloud, bring your own device (BYOD), software-defined networking (SDN), and the Internet of Things (IoT).

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Gupta attributed this flexibility to Huawei's new Ethernet Network Processor (EPN), a programmable chip dedicated to Ethernet forwarding that powers the Agile S12700 line. Gupta said Huawei's EPN, compared to the application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) found in most Cisco switches, allows for improved cost efficiency, lower power consumption, and faster deployment times for services.

The main difference between ASICs and Huawei's EPN, Gupta said, is that EPNs can be more easily programmed to accommodate next-generation protocols or virtualization methods -- such as Virtual Extensible LAN (vxLAN) or Network Virtualization using Generic Routing Encapsulation (nvGRE) -- while most ASICs need to be replaced entirely to do the same.

"ASICs, once they are created and once they are built, they are done. You cannot change them," Gupta told CRN. "The advantage of the Ethernet Network Processor is that you can program it, and you can change it."

Gupta said he expects this new EPN chip to find its way into the bulk of Huawei's switches moving forward. "We have invested millions of dollars and years of time to develop this EPN, and we expect this to basically make its way into all our switches, including out lower-end switches," he said.

Cisco declined CRN's request for comment.

NEXT: Meeting Customer Demand For A Flexible, Programmable SDN-Centric Solution

Glenn Conley, president and CEO of Metropark Communications, a St. Louis-based solution provider and Huawei partner, said it's this level of flexibility delivered through Huawei's new Agile switching series that really sets it apart from the competition. He also said that customers are starting to demand this kind of programmability in their networks.

"If there is some new application that needs extra priority in the future, I am able to do that without having to rip it all out and put it back in," Conley said. "I think customers are getting more savvy now, and they like the flexibility of being able to change [to accommodate] whatever the future is going to bring at the software level, instead of having to rip it out and put something brand new in."

According to Huawei's Gupta, the Agile S12700 switch series -- which will come in both an eight- or 12-slot chassis -- will help Huawei's channel partners round out their switching portfolios with a more programmable, SDN-centric solution.

"This is huge for our channel, actually," Gupta said. "Partners were [saying], 'when we are competing with the Cisco's and the Juniper's of the world and we show our road map, there's nothing high-end from a flexibility or programmability point of view.' This switch really fills that gap."

Shenzhen, China-based Huawei has been working to grow both its U.S. enterprise and partner base over the past two years, with the launch of its formal U.S. channel program in 2011. In a recent interview with CRN, Huawei said it currently has between 75 and 100 U.S. partners.

The company has also, however, been facing allegations from the U.S. government of collusion with the Chinese government, which, in some cases, has hurt Huawei's efforts to grow its U.S. presence.

Both Conley and Gupta said they could also see Huawei's new Agile S12700 making its way into data center networks down the line. "In the future, it might play really, really well in that arena, as well," Conley said.