HP is following other big systems makers into the world of software defined networking with a line of 16 OpenFlow-enabled switches. That’s a pretty serious commitment to OpenFlow, a protocol that helps take the intelligence associated with routing packets off of the high-priced switching gear and puts it on commodity servers.
HP not only introduced OpenFlow enabled switches, but said that customers with existing HP switches can download software that will add OpenFlow capabilities to their current gear. This looks like a far bigger committment than IBM’s and NEC’s effort to build out a hardware and services package around OpenFlow and software defined networking from earlier this month, and is a continuation of the trend toward OpenFlow making it into production environments this year.
OpenFlow and software defined networking has been a topic for academics, webscale vendors and carriers, as they seek to do to routers and switches what virtualization did for servers — make them more agile and scalable. OpenFlow is just one tool to build SDNs while Juniper, Cisco and other vendors also offer tools for network virtualization. Of course, most vendors say they will support the OpenFlow protocol as well, including Cisco, the vendor that stands to be hurt the most if OpenFlow ushers in an age of folks buying cheap switches and shifting the networking intelligence to commodity servers.
As we add more devices to the network they have to scale out better, and as IT relies more on on-demand compute and storage, the networking has to become as flexible as the virtualized servers that spin up and down. The network becomes a bottleneck if every time you want to add capacity to your cloud or associate new networking policies with a series of virtual machines, someone has to manually unplug boxes or install new load balancing or firewall gear. Virtualization and software defined networks are seen as the solution.
HP said that so far it has more than 10 million OpenFlow-capable switch ports deployed, which is tiny number compared to the overall switch market. However, it’s not alone in pushing OpenFlow, and it has made quite a commitment with a full upgrade of its existing switches and 16 new ones on offer.