HP Joins Dell, Juniper in Offering Open Network Switches

The vendor is building systems with Accton that will run Cumulus' network OS as part of an industry push to disaggregate hardware and software.

data center

Hewlett-Packard is the latest networking vendor to offer open switches that can run operating systems from other vendors.

HP is joining the likes of Dell and Juniper Networks in the trend toward network disaggregation, where organizations can buy hardware from one vendor and software from another, a break from traditional networking where companies like Cisco Systems sell their software running on their own gear.

Dell throughout 2014 built out its Open Networking initiative, offering switches that run such third-party hardware as Cumulus Networks' Linux-based network operating system, Big Switch Networks' network fabric technology and Midokura's Enterprise MidoNet network virtualization overlay solution. Juniper also offers an open switch that can run third-party software.

HP is partnering with Accton Technology to build two new software-independent switches that will run Cumulus' Linux networking OS. The HP-branded switches will be aimed at Web-scale organizations and service providers that run cloud, mobile, social media and big data workloads, according to HP officials. Businesses and service providers, under pressure from such trends as mobility and big data, are looking for networking solutions that offer flexibility, agility and affordability.

The movement toward software-defined networking (SDN) and network-functions virtualization (NFV) is designed to offer that scalability and programmability by running the control plane and networking tasks in software atop low-cost, commodity networking gear, including white boxes. The new open, branded switches from known vendors like HP and Dell are part of the trend toward what Gartner analysts call "brite boxes."

While white boxes offer customers the promise of significant cuts in capital expenses and the avoidance of vendor lock-in, "this is not a panacea and there are massive barriers for mainstream and even service provider organizations to utilize white-box switching (i.e., managing the acquisition process, integrating hardware/software, support etc., etc.)," Gartner analyst Andrew Lerner wrote in post on the firm's blog in November 2014 about the rise of brite-box networking.

Most organizations don't have the expertise or resources to deploy and manage a vast number of white boxes from unknown original design manufacturers (ODMs), and are looking for the support that vendors like HP and Dell can bring. With HP's open switches, the vendor not only supplies the hardware and software, but also other resources and support for customer needs. HP has a presence in more than 160 countries and offers a broad array of support and consulting services, and officials said that through the solution, customers will see capital and operating expenses cut by as much as 68 percent over traditional networking environments.

"HP becomes the single point of contact for this solution," Philippe Michelet, director of global product management in the data center for HP Networking, told eWEEK.

For companies like HP and Dell, brite boxes enable them not only to offer alternatives to white boxes, but also to sell support services for these systems.

The two new switches developed with Accton—and available in late March—will enable 10G/40G spine and 10G leaf designs. In the second half of the year, HP will expand the offerings to include 25G/50G/100G switches for high-performance Web-scale needs and 1G switches for other customers. HP also will expand the number of hardware and OS choices offered on the switches, making it easier for businesses to more easily fit the systems to their needs, according to officials.

For example, HP will tailor its own Comware 7 OS to run on the brite-box switches, they said.

The operating systems will be able to be easily loaded onto the switches via Cumulus' Open Network Install Environment (ONIE).

HP's Michelet said some of HP's open switches are based on designs from the Open Compute Project (OCP) while others will be submitted to the OCP for approval. OCP is an effort being led by Facebook to develop open hardware designs for data center resources. For its part, Facebook is developing its own networking gear, and last week introduced its latest hardware.