HP upgrades data centre network architecture, ships in the UK

With HP FlexNetwork architecture upgrades, HP Networking promises better performance and more granular management across physical and virtual environments for the cloud.

Warning network managers that they are quickly losing control of the data centre network, HP Networking announced a raft of products and services aimed at virtualisation and specifically cloud networking and management—all enhancements to its HP FlexNetwork architecture. The company also announced that all HP FlexNetwork-related hardware will be shipping in the UK.

“The key is performance in terms of capacity and latency,” said Olivier Vallois, data centre solution manager for HP Networking EMEA.  “This is even more important now as applications are running into the cloud because virtual machines are created, deleted, moved permanently and the network manager doesn’t have control.”

Recent research from Gartner shows that by 2014, network planners should expect more than 80% of traffic in the data centre’s LAN to be between servers, Vallois pointed out. Virtual traffic is notoriously invisible to network managers unless they employ new virtual switching and management strategies.

HP FlexNetwork architecture promises to boost cloud network performance

HP's FlexNetwork architecture, which was first released in May at Interop 2011 in Las Vegas, aims to flatten the campus LAN in the same way that enterprises have flattened their data centre LANs. Instead of having three tiers, data centre networks now often have two tiers connecting the core directly to the edge. With FlexNetwork, campus and branch LANs can also be simplified, and all of the networks can be linked and managed together through a virtual chassis.

This week's launch, made at VMworld, promises to expand architecture capabilities to enable greater performance and granular management for cloud networks.

Central to the release is upgraded HP Virtual Connect firmware 3.3 that extends virtual local area network (VLAN) support to more than 1,000 VLANs per Virtual Connect domain, which is eight times more than the previous version.

“This will increase very significantly the number of VLANs that are supported and also the flexibility of VLANs. In the past you had to select one or another type of VLAN, and now you can mix the different types of VLAN on the same link,” said  Vallois.

More VLANs mean improved performance—HP promises six times greater capacity— but these VLANs also enable the kind of traffic separation necessary for better utilising resources in the cloud network. They also provide greater visibility of traffic in the cloud environment for network management purposes.

The release also includes new HP 5830 top-of-rack switches, which aim for greater performance.

“This switch has huge buffers in comparison with traditional top of rack switches. In HP Networking we have been talking about megabytes of buffers—so 2MB or 4Mb or 16MB—as do our competitors. With the 5830 solution we are talking about gigabytes of buffers,” said Vallois.

“This becomes important in data centre environments when you start to have very bursty applications that are going to consume a lot and create congestion. That has an impact on all the applications going through the top-of-rack switch.”

He added, “This is even more important in the cloud environment because as the cloud service provider, you don’t control what is running and where it is running. When the cloud starts to grow and you start to provision lots of virtual machines, there is a high risk that you will face congestion on the network that will affect the performance of some of the applications you are hosting.”

HP FlexNetwork architecture: New management and security functions

To add manageability to this architecture ecosystem, HP is shipping its Intelligent Management Center (IMC 5.1)—a management platform that gives network managers access to both virtual and physical environments with reporting and monitoring across resources through a single pane of glass.

“Networking engineers typically like the command line interface and troubleshooting tools, and these were not always available. With Virtual Connect 3.3 lots of these tools are now made available for networking engineers,” said Vallois.

In addition to manageability for virtual environments, HP TippingPoint has also worked with VMware to develop a virtual environment security strategy for the cloud with unified management and automated scanning. That means that VMware's vShield will be integrated with HP TippingPoint's Intrusion Prevention System, automating security policy that will follow VMs as they are created and moved.

HP FlexNetwork architecture: Big moves, but how innovative?

With FlexNetwork architecture, HP Networking is definitely sending a message that it is serious about data centre networking, but Quocirca analyst Bob Tarzey sees it another way: “This is HP playing catch up with the Cisco, EMC, VMware VCE Coalition, building blocks for the cloud; nothing wrong with that per se, but nothing novel about it either.”

IDC EMEA networking and infrastructure analyst Emir Halilovic describes HP’s proposition as ‘compelling’ but has reservations about the market for it: “They seem to be targeting those organisations that are ready to do a lot of replacements, and how many of those organisations are there in the market? I am not too optimistic about the appetite, although it is definitely a compelling vision for a company that is in the market for an overhaul.”

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