HP To Take On Cisco, Juniper With New Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) Unit

Looking to up its SDN game against rivals like Cisco and Juniper Networks, Hewlett-Packard is readying the launch of a new networking unit dedicated to Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and the service provider market.

The unit, which will develop network virtualization technologies for carriers, will be led by Bethany Mayer, senior vice president and general manager of HP's $2.5 billion networking division, HP confirmed to CRN Tuesday.

The new NFV group will fall under HP's cloud organization, with Mayer reporting to HP CTO and cloud head Martin Fink.

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In an emailed statement to CRN, HP said the new NFV group is a "companywide initiative" that will span the work being done in HP's Cloud, Enterprise and Enterprise Services groups.

"Bethany [Mayer] was chosen to run this critical new business based on her experience working across HP, her startup experience, and her depth and breadth of knowledge in the networking space," an HP spokesperson wrote in the email.

Mayer, who has headed up HP's legacy networking business since May 2011, will continue to oversee that unit until a replacement is named, HP said.

Plans of HP's NFV unit were first reported Sunday by Re/code, which received a copy of an internal HP memo detailing the launch.

NFV -- a complementary technology to the buzzed-about SDN trend -- refers to the virtualization of layer 4-7 network functions, such as firewalls, intrusion-prevention systems and load balancing. NFV promises benefits similar to those of SDN, such as increased network automation and scale.

The telecommunications industry has particularly embraced NFV as a way to handle the influx of data-intensive applications, such as video, crossing their networks. AT&T, for instance, recently rolled out its Supplier Domain Program 2.0, an initiative through which the carrier will seek out new SDN and NFV technologies from networking vendors that can help it build an "open, cloud-based network."

And AT&T, it seems, isn't alone. A study last year from research firm Informa Telecoms & Media shows that half of mobile operators globally expect to do some kind of SDN implementation by 2015, with 93 percent expecting to do so within the next five years.

HP told CRN a portion of its networking sales today are already focused on the telco market, but declined to give any further details.

John Barker, president and co-founder of Versatile Communications, a Marlborough, Mass.-based solution provider and HP partner, said he is glad to see HP investing more in next-generation technologies like NFV.

"I am absolutely glad to see this," Barker said. "This is certainly not a fad, and there are some obvious benefits to customers that really can't be ignored when it comes to the whole SDN space."

Barker also noted, however, that he will be waiting anxiously to see who replaces Mayer as head of HP's networking business.

"We certainly have been through our share of changes in our space, but I think most of us in the partner community feel pretty good about Meg Whitman's five-year plan," Barker said. "There is always some pain associated with change, but this does seem strategic."

HP rivals including Cisco and Juniper also have been building out NFV portfolios. Cisco, for its part, launched on Tuesday its Evolved Services Platform, or new orchestration software that can help service providers automate and provision services in real time. Juniper, meanwhile, offers its Contrail SDN controller for NFV environments.

Juniper's service provider business has been a bright spot the past few quarters, with the company in January reporting that its service provider revenue for the fourth quarter was up 12 percent year-over-year to $827 million. The segment, however, has been a pain point for Cisco, which in its most recent quarterly earnings reported a 12 percent year-over-year decline in service provider orders.