HP: The Software-Defined Networking Company?

switchHP recently concluded its third HP Discover Conference, this time in Barcelona, with the message that HP Networking is now pushing ahead with SDN (Software Defined Networks) and NFV (Network Function Virtualization) products and concepts. Two years ago HP was debating internally whether to sell off its networking division. Last year HP announced that it had managed to integrate its networking product line with its security and storage acquisitions. This year HP networking takes a lead role in returning HP to profitability with 16 quarters of uninterrupted growth and market share gains. On the SDN Controller and NFV router fronts HP argues that its success is due to the ability of its link software to determine and set connection requirements (e.g. QoS) on each individual session, thus optimizing the handling of both Point-to-Point and Point-to-Multipoint traffic loads.

From a hardware perspective (and that counts for a lot in the HP world), the SDN platform is hardware independent (though not necessarily commoditized), and all software components are standards-based, using the Open Network Foundation’s OpenFlow for the communication interfaces between the control and forwarding layers of its SDN architecture. The HP value proposition is to provide consistent and converged networking all the way from the edge to the core, and to fully integrate the HP-acquired Tipping Point Sentinel security and 3PAR storage capabilities.

Furthermore, the SDN link handling the interaction between software and the controller is completely scripted. It comes with open APIs that are preconfigured for HP’s own Autonomy enterprise search platform, as well as for several of HP’s partner’s products such as Microsoft’s unified messaging services and SAP HANA. Customers can also build their own apps, which thus become more tightly integrated with the network by providing the app and session needs directly to the controller.

HP realizes that to present itself as a networking company when most of their customers still view it as a hardware and data center provider is going to take more roadshows, and probably several more Discovery conferences. However, HP also believes that the IT community is ‘under-educated’ with regards to modes of hardware ownership — especially when equipment generation lifecycles are shorter and shorter, and the strategy of sweating resources is turning into a distinct competitive disadvantage and builds up the later CAPEX requirements. HP, with its own financial vehicle, is looking to enter into new purchasing arrangements with customers willing to shift to SDN and NFV solutions.

HP does present interesting SDN proof points, with over a hundred reference customers already signed up — not only brand names like LEGO and Prada, but also really demanding network customers like CERN, where HP networking provides the OpenFlow load balancing across all physical ports.

To get its vision across faster to more customers, HP is taking a lead role in the SDN/NFV consulting process, providing network reviews and undertaking implementations. In future, HP really wants its channel partners to do it, but that will require additional training efforts. One such effort was the recent Developers Week in the US, which saw software developers and integrators from across the US bringing in their applications to get them vetted and honed by HP SDN specialists.

Typical HP SDN customers today are telcos and cloud service providers, with the large enterprise sector next. However, the challenge here is to address the market’s demand for fully tested and pre-loaded vertical industry solutions, which will also appeal more to channel partners that can then specialize and deploy SDN faster. HP has a hospitality industry offer today and banking and accounting solutions are under way, but more work is needed, especially in EMEA to identify the most promising verticals to address.

Image credit: felixtriller

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Bernt Ostergaard