HP adds to its OpenFlow-enabled switch portfolio

OpenFlow is an emerging technology to help networking to be as agile as the rest of a virtualized environment. HP is one of a number of switch suppliers who are offering OpenFlow-based products. Forward and backward compatibility is one of HP’s differentiators.

HP recently launched three new members of their of OpenFlow-enabled network switches, the HP 3500, 5400 and 8200 series switches. HP’s Saar Gillai, Vice President, Advanced Technology Group, and Chief Technology Officer, HP Networking and Charles Clark, Distinguished Technologist, HP Networking took the time to discuss HP’s philosophy behind the company’s network switch portfolio.

The short version of the HP story is that the company is focused on bringing to market a set of network switches that are extremely flexible, easy to manage and have the ability to address business requirements including bandwidth, performance and budgetary requirements. At this point, HP is offering 16 different switches that are OpenFlow enabled.

Before we look at HP’s new switches, let’s look at OpenFlow itself.

What is OpenFlow?
We have to turn to the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) to get the definitive answer to the question “what is OpenFlow.” ONF states that:

OpenFlow is an open standard that enables researchers to run experimental protocols in the campus networks we use every day. OpenFlow is added as a feature to commercial Ethernet switches, routers and wireless access points – and provides a standardized hook to allow researchers to run experiments, without requiring vendors to expose the internal workings of their network devices. OpenFlow is currently being implemented by major vendors, with OpenFlow-enabled switches now commercially available.

In short, OpenFlow is a set of specifications, APIs and protocols that make it possible to create a virtual network environment that is extremely flexible and, in the future, will have the ability to change network routing functions dynamically to address a rapidly changing environment.

Although OpenFlow is an emerging technology, it holds out the hope of simplifying the installation and management of complex, multi-site networks as well as making it possible for network communications to adapt to mobile communications and workloads moving from data center to data center. Once a network session begins, it could be moved from switch to switch as users and workloads move.

What did HP announce?
HP announced 16 models of OpenFlow enabled network switches and that OpenFlow support has been extended to all switches that support the HP FlexNetwork architecture. The three new switches are the HP 3500 yl switch series, the HP 5400 zl switch series and the HP 8200 zl switch series.

Snapshot analysis
Organizations are deploying a broad range of virtualized workloads. This means workloads that depend upon many or all of the layers of virtualization technology described in the Kusnetzky Group Model (see Sorting out the different layers of virtualization for more information on the layers of virtualization). While the organizations can realize benefits of increased performance, reliability, availability or optimization, it also means that network utilization becomes far more dynamic than in the past.

Traditional switches have been “set and forget” devices. That is after an elaborate set up has been completed, the switches are monitored, but largely allowed to do their work. This approach no longer works well when we consider that workloads or their components may move from system to system in a data center or move from data center to data center while the work they’re doing continues. Access to these workloads is being made from mobile devices as well as the more traditional static desktop systems.

The network has to be able to deal with this changing environment.

OpenFlow holds out the promise of making a dynamic network a reality. Fourteen different suppliers demonstrated OpenFlow-enabled switches at InterOp 2011. At this point, I’m aware of four suppliers shipping products, including HP, IBM, NEC and Fujitsu.

HP is one of the few that is offering a large number of OpenFlow-enabled products.

If your organization’s network has become a constraint holding back virtualization plans, it would be wise to examine these switches.