HP Opens Up Its Switches to OpenFlow

HP is taking the bold step of being the first major vendor to offer full commercial support for OpenFlow software defined networking technology.

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Feb 3, 2012
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OpenFlow technology has been used for years by researchers and early adopters as a way to build software defined networks. OpenFlow is now getting a major vote of confidence from HP with a portfolio of at least 16 switches that will offer full support for OpenFlow.

HP has been a supporter of the OpenFlow effort for several years, but previously had not offered full commercial support on its switching platforms.

"We have been working with OpenFlow and had a special licensed version available for over four years," Saar Gillai, Vice President, Advanced Technology Group, and CTO at HP Networking told InternetNews.com. "Now, based on strong demand from our customers, we're putting out a fully supported commercial release that any of our customers can download and use on their switches."

The move enables over 10 million switching ports that HP has deployed in the field to run OpenFlow. The basic idea with OpenFlow is that enterprises can connect multiple switches and even networks together to create a flow. Multiple vendors including Juniper Networks provide options for OpenFlow, though HP is the first Tier 1 vendor to offer full commercial support across a large footprint of its installed base.

The commercially supported release of OpenFlow from HP goes beyond what had been available to HP customers in the past. Charles Clark, distinguished technologist at HP Networking explained to InternetNews.com that with the commercial support the offering is more robust and supportable.

"We've been increasing performance to the system and also adding in diagnostics and troubleshooting to the system," Clark said.

From an enterprise perspective, HP is not charging customers anything extra for the new OpenFlow capabilities. As such, if an enterprise already has a valid support subscription for an HP switch, they can get OpenFlow at no additional charge.

A full OpenFlow deployment requires switches that are OpenFlow enabled as well as a controller to manage the flows. Currently, there are multiple open source OpenFlow controllers available including NOX, Beacon and Maestro among others. HP does not currently have its own OpenFlow controller though that could change in the future.

"This is the first step of multiple things that we're going to be doing with OpenFlow this year," Gillai said. "You should assume that there will be other pieces coming out in the future that relate to OpenFlow both across more of our switches and in the control plan mechanism."

He added that currently, HP doesn't a specific recommendation for an OpenFlow controller, though he noted that lots of people are using NOX. That said HP's OpenFlow switches are already used in the field with a wide variety of controllers.

HP's support for OpenFlow is directly related to the company's vision for the future of networking which has a lot to do with the virtualization of the network. HP believes that OpenFlow will play an important role in that future.

"Seeding OpenFlow switches and capabilities into the market is really important as we think this will give us a good base to work from," Gillai said. "This is another example of HP providing standard non-proprietary interfaces for networking."

In terms of where OpenFlow needs to continue to evolve, Gillai said that there needs to be more maturity for controllers in terms of what can be done and what kind of applications can be run.

"There are implementations that people are doing, but that's where you'll see some interesting developments from us in terms of how OpenFlow is being used to provide innovative applications," Gillai said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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