HP's NFV Strategy an Open Book, Mayer Says

The head of HP's NFV unit says the company's broad and open approach is a key advantage over rivals like Cisco.

For Bethany Mayer, openness is a key factor when talking about network-functions virtualization, and a significant differentiator for Hewlett-Packard against other vendors in the increasingly competitive market.

Mayer is senior vice president and general manager of HP's new Network Functions Virtualization group, a unit she was put in charge of in February after several years heading up the tech giant's $2.5 billion networking business. She will still oversee HP's networking efforts until a new executive is named to the post, but much of her focus is being put into network-functions virtualization (NFV) and competing against the likes of Cisco Systems.

In a recent interview with eWEEK, Mayer said HP's efforts include making its NFV technology open and flexible, and growing the number of tech vendors it partners with to ensure that communications service providers will be able to leverage the solutions to get services to market faster and to better manage their costs.

She pointed to the technologies that help make up the company's OpenNFV program, which was introduced in February and include such components as HP's NFV Director for orchestration capabilities—which includes NFV APIs that other companies can leverage—and to the vendor's embrace of the OpenStack open cloud computing platform.

"I'm not kidding," Mayer said. "It's open."

NFV and software-defined networking (SDN) are being embraced by vendors as ways to make networks more flexible, programmable, automated and cost-effective at a time when trends like cloud computing, IT mobility, big data and bring your own device (BYOD) are increasing the demand for more dynamic networks. Traditional networks too often are programmed manually, are complex and are too difficult to adapt to changing business needs.

SDN essentially separates the control plane from the underlying physical infrastructure and puts the network intelligence into software. NFV—which was born out of the telecommunications industry—virtualizes such networking tasks as firewalls, load balancing and intrusion detection systems, making them easier to deploy.

Networking vendors of all sizes are building out their SDN and NFV portfolios, putting their own spins on how they should work. Cisco is pushing its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) vision, which leverages the company's hardware (including switches and silicon) and software capabilities to enable organizations to unify and manage their virtual and physical infrastructures and many of their data center resources from a single point, the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC). The goal is to create an infrastructure that quickly and securely automatically responds to the needs of applications.

Mayer and other critics see that approach as Cisco pushing a stack of proprietary technologies, though Cisco officials have argued that the ACI strategy calls for an open approach. HP's OpenNFV program also includes the vendor's own infrastructure and technologies, but a goal is to make it easy for customers to use HP components within whatever environment they choose. For example, a key part is HP's SDN controller, which not only can be used in HP environments, but also in situations where other vendors' products are deployed.