By Jennifer LeClaire / CIO Today. Updated February 06, 2012.
Cisco and Brocade pushed out new cloud-minded switches last week. Now, Hewlett-Packard is answering back with a portfolio of OpenFlow-enabled switches that aim to simplify network management, performance and budget needs.
HP's new portfolio spans 16 models and includes the HP 3500, 5400 and 8200 series switches. HP also announced expanded support for OpenFlow across all switches in its FlexNetwork architecture in 2012.
OpenFlow is a network virtualization technology that promises customers flexibility and control to configure their networking environments by giving a remote controller the power to modify the behavior of varied network devices through a "forwarding instruction set."
But analysts have varied takes on how valuable the OpenFlow standard is. HP touts benefits like reduced complexity of network devices and automated tasks via simplified management. HP also points to how IT staff can better respond to changing needs in real time. But, again, analysts have mixed views.
A Data-Driven Transformation
Jon Oltsik, senior principal analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, is among those who see the value of OpenFlow. HP also has attracted partners like Indiana University, Stanford University and the Global Environment for Network Innovations Project, which is operated by Raytheon BBN Technologies and funded by the National Science Foundation.
"Enterprise data centers are in the midst of a massive transformation driven by data center consolidation, server virtualization, Web-based applications and new security requirements, which our research indicates has created numerous network challenges that can't be addressed with existing legacy networks and manual processes," Oltsik said.
"OpenFlow holds the promise of breaking the logjam in network flexibility as well as paving the way for network innovation in the data center -- and vendor support from companies like HP is crucial for advancing this technology in 2012."
Is OpenFlow Really Better?
But Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research, is still not sold on OpenFlow. As he sees it, OpenFlow has yet to prove what it can do that can't be done with traditional networking standards.
"Although it's an interesting concept to be able to create a single point of control for my network and use software to manage it, networks are complicated. It's difficult to build a high-performance network at scale," Kerravala said. "When you look at the importance networking is playing in terms of cloud and video, it's not really shown to me how OpenFlow is going to make networking better."
HP is one of the first major vendors to support OpenFlow, a move Kerravala sees as a competitive strategy against Cisco. But he warned that innovation for innovation's sake is not practical for the market.
"When I look at OpenFlow it looks like an academic or theoretical exercise on networking but it doesn't have the practical side," Kerravala said. "Is it going to make the network manager's life significantly easier?
"If you are looking at a 5 to 10 percent reduction in operational costs, that's minor. I don't believe that just lower hardware costs alone really drive a lot of sales, either, because most of the cost of the network is running it."