HP Flexes Networking Muscle with IRF

HP debuts new top-of-rack and stackable switches to enable network consolidation.

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Oct 5, 2011
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HP is expanded its FlexNetwork architecture portfolio today with new FlexFabric and FlexCampus switching gear. The new hardware is being complemented by an improved management offering that protects against mobile network threats.

HP first debuted its FlexNetwork architecture in May of this year as a platform for network convergence. With the new releases, HP is delivering additional deployment options and network consolidation features.

In the HP FlexFabric product family, there is the new 10 Gigabit Ethernet, 5900 top-of-rack switch. The 5900 has 48, 10 GbE ports and 4 QSFP ports that can be used for 40 Gigabit Ethernet ports.

"This really unique in that it can handle ulta-low latency while providing for the convergence of Ethernet and storage traffic, all in a single device," Kash Shaikh, Director, Marketing at HP Networking told InternetNews.com.

The 5900 can be virtualized in a set of four physical switches to become one logical switch for ease of management. HP's Intelligent Resilient Framework (IRF) is the technology that enables the virtualization of the multiple switches. IRF is a competitive approach to other vendors, including Cisco and Juniper that have their own virtual switch chassis technologies.

"Having the horizontal scaling with IRF really reduces the network hops and facilitates the behavior of the traffic, which is really server-to-server in the data center," Shaikh said.

Shaikh noted that IRF also provides benefits that are similar to TRILL (Transparent Interconnection of Lots of Links), which is an emerging networking standard backed by multiple vendors. He explained that TRILL is a mechanism where you can do multi-pathing in a network so you can have all the links active. Shaik explained that IRF provides similar benefits and what HP will be doing is supporting TRILL in a future release with IRF, as a way to scale networks.

In addition to IRF, HP is implementing the Data Center Bridging (DCB) standards to help further flatten the network and improve Ethernet.

"One of the main enhancements in DCB is per flow queuing," Shaikh said. "You can pause each signal queue on an Ethernet port."

Shaikh explained that Ethernet at the outset was inherently a lossy protocol, whereas Fibre Channel for storage is lossless. So in order to make Ethernet lossless, DCB enables re-transmission in case of congestion in the network.

In addition to the 5900, HP is debuting the 3800 series of stackable switches for a campus wiring closet. The 3800 is a 1 RU switch that can be stacked 10 units high. Shaikh said the 3800 can support up to 336 Gbps of stacking throughput. The stacking technologies used by HP leverages a mesh topology.

"The benefit of mesh is really the resiliency, so every switch is connected to every other switch," Shaikh said. "So in case of failure there is little to no downtime."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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