HP Brings Intelligence to the Networks Edge

New network planning and design architecture seeks to rewrite the rules of campus network design.

Hewlett-Packard Co. launched Monday a new network planning and design architecture that seeks to rewrite the rules of campus network design.

While campus LANs today are designed with all or most of the network intelligence residing in the core of the network in large, expensive modular switches, HPs new ProCurve Networking Adaptive Edge Architecture advocates moving more intelligence and control to the edges of the network using cheap Layer 2 LAN switches populating those edges.

Enterprise networks in the future will be shaped by the Internet and the resulting need for security, as well as mobility and the convergence of voice and data, according to Brice Clark, worldwide director of strategy and business planning for HPs ProCurve unit in Roseville, Calif.

"We think you need to put more control and functionality at the edge of the network so you can immediately provision the right kind of control for a broader range of applications. You need to manage mobility from a wireless perspective at the edge where users connect," he said.

HP is moving in the right direction philosophically, according to industry analyst Vijay Bhagavath at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. "The enterprise edge today needs to be beefed up with security functionality and appropriate hooks to allow users to have pervasive access to business-critical information within their enterprises," he said.

As a part of its initiative to redesign the way enterprise networks are architected, HP has been working for the last three years to build more affordable intelligence into its own edge, or wiring closet switches.

Its ProCurve 5300 series switches delivered last summer, for example, which cost about $65 per 10/100 port, implement a broad range of security features as well as Layer 3 and Layer 4 traffic prioritization features. "They let the customer deploy next-generation intelligence at the networks edge at a commodity price point," said Clark.

The intent is to allow the network to adapt to whoever is connecting to the network at a given port and provide that user with the appropriate level of service and access to appropriate resources.

"As an R&D engineer, as I log in, through the authentication process, it configures that port of the network uniquely for my needs. It would configure me to the appropriate VLAN [virtual LAN], [and] provide some indication of what types of applications I might be running and what prioritization those applications are entitled to. But as a human resources employee, a different set of controls will be implemented at the switch for me," Clark said.

HPs ProCurve Networking Adaptive Edge Architecture was designed to accommodate centralized network cores as well as distributed intelligence networks, so it can work in a mixed environment. But because HP does not sell its own modular switch/routers for core enterprise networks, it may have a hard time selling into large enterprises already invested in Cisco Systems Inc. core switches.

"Large-scale enterprises still want to deal with vendors that have complete networking solutions. For the more cost conscious and those that dont mind having separate campus LAN solutions from what they use for core routing, you will see people like HP and Dell [Computer Corp.] challenging Cisco in that space," said Jerald Murphy, senior vice president at Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

Some of the new features implemented in the ProCurve 5300 are implemented in new ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) chips that can be reprogrammed. Others are implemented in hardware or firmware that can support software updates.

"What goes where depends on the functionality—whether it needs hardware speed or not. If its not in the data path, we can do it in software. If it is in the data path, it requires ASICs," said Clark.

HP intends to build on the ASIC family to deliver other products or features in other form factors over the next 12 to 24 months. The company is also working on a next generation of intelligent edge switches, Clark said.

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