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HP takes giant first step into OpenFlow

Colin Neagle | Feb. 3, 2012
HP this week said it is taking its first leap into OpenFlow-enabled network equipment, supporting the standard on 16 of its Ethernet switch products as it attempts to gain a foothold in a market likely to receive significant attention from competitors.

"Although there are certainly deployments that people are actually using, most of the chatter is around what could be done," Gillai says. "Over the next year, as people start using this type of technology in certain applications, whether it's with service providers, large data centers and so forth, some of the discussion will move more toward how things are done or what deployments look like and where it looks better and where it looks worse. So I think it's going to be more discussion about experience and less discussion about theoretical."

Experts on OpenFlow believe widespread adoption of the protocol will be gradual simply because of the nature of the network industry. Dan Schmiedt, executive director of network and telecom at Clemson University, says current infrastructure management practices are so ingrained in traditional standards that it will take time for many to migrate.

"That is to say that nothing is really changing or advancing -- we're still basically using the same protocols and paradigms we used 20 years ago," Schmiedt says. "With good reason, too: it works, and even if someone came up with the best new protocol there ever had been, it would be at best a decade before it was implemented in any network box."

However, the progression may be moving along more quickly than Schmiedt had predicted. In his work with OpenFlow and software-defined networking at Clemson, Schmiedt has already seen the potential for widespread operational change stemming from an innovative approach to the network.

"Perhaps that is the most important thing about SDN/OF: it opens networking to true innovators instead of simple protocol plumbers like me," Schmiedt says. "My world is fixed in the OSI model and the way we've always done things. Since the advent of OF, and for the first time in my 15 years in networking, I regularly interact with students and faculty who seek to solve real-world networking problems."

For HP, Clark believes the release of its new switch portfolio is a milestone.

"We're kicking the year off with the availability of production-quality OpenFlow switches," Clark says. "This is the beginning of that transformation from research to production. It'll be an exciting year for OpenFlow."

HP certainly isn't alone in the race to make network equipment Openflow compatible. IBM and NEC, for example, have collaborated on a collection of OpenFlow-enabled switches.


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