HP Enterprise Ethernet Switch Buyer’s Guide.

According to IDC, the worldwide Ethernet switch market is recovering nicely. It experienced 28.1 percent growth compared to 2009. That adds up to revenues of $5.35 billion in the fourth quarter alone, and $21.1 billion for 2010 as a whole. IDC expects to see moderate growth in 2011.

“The fourth quarter was a moderately good quarter as a follow on to three quarters of better than 30% growth in the Ethernet switch market,” said IDC analyst Rohit Mehra.

While Cisco rules the market, HP is a respectable number two in enterprise switches, according to Dell’Oro Group. HP believes that a steady evolution is occurring with the field of enterprise switching, and that it has undergone three major shifts in recent years. In the beginning, switches were used for basic connectivity and file sharing. Then the advent of Ethernet allowed for a more common approach to switching.

“Networking’s alignment with IT and business infrastructure is critical to enterprise success,” said Joseph Vukson, Manager Solutions Marketing, HP Networking. “Enterprise switching is now undergoing a third shift with the goal of creating an interconnected network that is aligned very closely with the complete IT infrastructure.”

In accordance with this, HP Networking offers a broad switching portfolio. That encompasses core to edge to branch/remote worker switching, basic Layer 2 up through dynamic Layer 3 routing capabilities and beyond. This includes a full feature set across modular and fixed stackable form factors.

“The HP Networking portfolio begins at the solution level with data center networking, LAN switching, and branch office connectivity,” said Vukson. “Products with enterprise routing, security, mobility and unified communications capabilities are also available.”

He said that the company is committed to open standards and its Converged Infrastructure concept. The idea behind the Convergence Infrastructure is that networking, server and storage is run within one platform for ease of management, lower overall costs and a lot less cabling.

Featured HP Switches

According to Vukson, there are three main product categories that currently exist in the enterprise switching market: data center, campus LAN and branch office. HP supplies products in each category:

HP Data Center Switches

In the HP data center switch category, he called attention to the HP A12500. It is suitable for the network core or the data center. It includes Intelligent Resilient Framework (IRF) technology for high performance and high availability, as well as energy-efficiency features. There are two models within this series: the A12518 provides 6.66 Tbps and 2160 Mpps, and supports up to 512 10-GbE (Gigabit Ethernet) per rack. The A12508 (3.06 Tbps, and 960 Mpps) supports up to 256 10-GbE. Both make use of sFlow network monitoring technology to gather a wide range of network stats, as well as capacity planning information.

HP Campus LAN Switches

Vukson said the A5800 is a representative model for HP’s lineup of campus LAN switches. He said it offers a combination of Gigabit and 10-Gigabit Ethernet port density, a high-availability architecture, and full Layer 2 and Layer 3 dual-stack IPv4 and IPv6 capabilities. IRF technology and Rapid Ring Protection Protocol (RRPP) allow local or geographically distributed A5800 switches to be interconnected for higher resiliency and performance. They are also available in Power over Ethernet (PoE and non-PoE) models and 1 RU and 2 RU chassis configurations.

Branch Office Switches

In HP’s branch office switch product line, the HP E5400 includes 6-slot and 12-slot chassis and a purpose-built, programmable ProVision ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) that allows the most demanding networking features, such as quality of service (QoS) and security to be implemented in a scalable fashion. It has 10/100, Gigabit Ethernet and 10 Gigabit Ethernet interfaces, choice of PoE+ and Non-PoE, and integrated layer 3 features.

“There are a number of variables that go into determining the best switch for a particular use case or network location,” said Vukson. “Factors such as performance, intelligence, reliability and scalability need to be taken into consideration when deciding on implementation plans.”

He lays out common challenges associated with deployment in various scenarios. At the campus LAN level, he said, there is often the need for a converged fabric. As these integrated collaboration applications are deployed, the presence of multiple networks creates complexity and risk.

“We are also entering a world where IT needs to support unified access across wired and wireless networks,” said Vukson.

In the data center, too, businesses often encounter issues when it comes to deployment. First off is the introduction of virtualization, which dramatically increases the complexity at the server edge. But the real challenge centers around building an infrastructure that can handle a heterogeneous environment. After all, there are large applications (e.g., Oracle, SAP, even Exchange) that are not currently supported in virtual environments and may not be for a while. As well as VMware, there is Hyper-V and Xen. This makes it difficult to establish a consistent and efficient architecture.

Vukson hands out some advice to users on when to buy, what to buy and what to hang onto.

“Consider implementing new solutions when newly installed services/application challenge existing network limitations or when complexity created by legacy deployments make management impossible,” he said. “When purchasing new solutions clients should focus on high performance, future proof capabilities that simplify, secure and align with business-wide IT priorities.”

So should they throw out everything and bring in all new gear? Vukson suggested that users hold onto networking equipment that still performs and handles current and near-term requirements. These might be edge-networking devices that do not require a significant increase in performance or intelligence, and that are operating up to expectations.

Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb has been a full-time professional writer and editor for more than twenty years. He currently works freelance for a number of IT publications, including eSecurity Planet and CIO Insight. He is also the editor-in-chief of an international engineering magazine.

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