HP Announces Linux-Powered Open Networking Switches

HP is joining the growing list of vendors embracing the Open Compute Project’s Open Networking effort. HP, however, isn’t positioning the new switches as competitive to, or even appropriate for, the branch or campus deployments of its enterprise customers.

The Open Compute project first announced its Open Networking effort in May of 2013 and has found some support among large networking vendors, including Juniper.

Philippe Michelet, HP Networking director of product management for the datacenter, explained to Enterprise Networking Planet that the decision to announce open networking switches now has been driven by a number of different factors. Among the factors is the time it took HP to build out a separate line-of-business operations group to go to market and support the open networking switches. Additionally, HP is aiming to provide its customers with a single point of contact for support issues, even though the new switches will be built from standardized commodity components.

HP is leveraging its long-term partner Accton to help build the switch, which will be HP-branded. From an operating system perspective, the new switches will use the Open Compute Project’s Open Network Install Environment (ONIE). The promise of ONIE is one of the key benefits of Open Networking overall. With ONIE, an organization can choose to install from any number of potentially supported operating systems to deploy on a given switch. With traditional networking gear, the operating system is typically tied to the hardware, and users do not get to choose.

Initially, HP has a partnership with Cumulus Networks for its Linux networking operating system as the primary choice for ONIE to deploy on the new open networking switches. Michelet noted that over time, HP will provide additional options, including HP’s own comware operating system.

From a product naming perspective, HP has yet to decide what new open networking switches will be called when they become generally available later this year. While the terms “whitebox” and “brite-box” have both been used by analysts to describe the new class of open networking switch, HP isn’t using either name.

“The branding is not yet finalized,” Michelet said.

Though HP has pledged to make a number of Open Networking switches available, the other challenge is that currently there is no public certification or compliance program to validate that any networking switch or product is actually open and compliant with the Open Compute Project specifications.

The new open networking initiative from HP is also not intended to compete against the company’s existing enterprise networking gear. Michelet explained that the goal is to have a separate go-to-market team for the new switch category that is different that the group that sells HP’s current networking portfolio. He emphasized that the open networking switches are only appropriate for a certain class of customer deployment. That class of customer could include a tier-one telco or a Wall St. financial services firm, where HP’s traditional switching gear doesn’t mesh with existing needs.

While the open networking switches will use different hardware and software than HP’s existing networking portfolio, there are elements of the existing portfolio that will complement the new gear. HP’s Intelligent Management Center (IMC), for example, will be able to manage the new switches. HP’s Virtual Application Network (VAN) SDN techology will work with the new switches as well.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Enterprise Networking Planet and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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