HP Challenges Cisco with New FlexNetwork Architecture

HP's new FlexNetwork architecture is designed to be an alternative to what company officials say is Cisco's proprietary offerings.

Hewlett-Packard is continuing to press Cisco Systems in the data center networking space, rolling out a new architecture that officials said is designed to enable businesses to leverage the benefits of such technologies as virtualization and cloud computing while avoiding being locked in to a single vendor.

HP's FlexNetwork, announced May 9, is aimed at tying together a business's networks in the data center, campus and branch offices; drive down costs; and create a consistent architecture. The FlexNetwork is a key part of the company's larger Converged Infrastructure data center strategy, according to officials.

The new architecture and accompanying products are squarely aimed at Cisco, still the market leader but a company that is seeing competitors like HP, Juniper Networks and Avaya chip away at that market share in part by offering networking products that are less expensive.

"We're going to go very aggressively at the market leader," said Mike Nielsen, director of solutions for HP's Networking unit.

In a statement announcing the FlexNetwork, HP officials argued that Cisco's approach is "single-vendor [and] proprietary," a combination they said brings with it complexity and high costs. HP's new architecture is designed to solve those issues, they said.

The FlexNetwork will be demonstrated this week at the Interop 2011 show in Las Vegas.

The architecture revolves around four building blocks-FlexFabric for data centers with converged computing, storage and networking resources in both physical and virtual environments, which will fuel adoption of cloud computing; FlexCampus for converged wired and wireless networks; FlexBranch for extending network and security into branch offices; and FlexManagement, a single point for management across the entire converged FlexNetwork.

The architecture is scalable and standards-based, adopting the TRILL specification over spanning tree. TRILL is similar to the FabricPath technology Cisco uses.

As part of the announcement, HP unveiled several products, including the A10500 line of switches that Nielsen said offers 75 percent lower latency, 250 percent higher switching capacity and 270 percent higher 10 Gigabit Ethernet density than competing Cisco switches.

In addition, HP introduced the E5400 and E8200 lines of switches and several wireless access points. On the security side, HP unveiled the TippingPoint S6100N appliance.

HP officials say the FlexNetwork architecture gives customers a clear alternative to Cisco's offerings, and the open, standards-based nature of it gives them an easier way to move to it.

"We give customers a real way to migrate away from vendor lock-in," Nielsen said.

HP and Cisco, longtime partners, are now fierce competitors in the growing converged data center trend. Cisco, long the top networking company, has started to stake a wider claim in the data center with its UCS (Unified Computing System) and partnerships with the likes of VMware and EMC. Meanwhile, HP has raised its profile in the networking space over the past year, particularly after its $2.7 billion acquisition of 3Com.

Cisco is in the process of reorganizing following several quarters of disappointing financial numbers and forecasts. The company has seen some weakness in its core switching and routing businesses. Some analysts have questioned whether the company's efforts in other areas have exposed its networking business to competitors.

Cisco already has ditched much of its consumer technology business-including the popular Flip video camera-and reorganized its services, sales and management teams.