HP on the creative cusp with SDN

Kash Shaikh, senior director, product and technical marketing, HP Networking

LAS VEGAS — SDN is a moving target that has inspired varied interpretation based on the interests of different communities in the IT world. Many of these were on hand this week at Interop Las Vegas, the flagship event in UBM Tech’s global expo series, determined to define, refine and broadcast messaging to a market that is poised for explosive growth. Forecast by IDC to reach $3.7 billion in spending by 2016 (from a "negligible amount" in 2012), software defined networking is gaining rapid market traction — and with good cause. In broadest terms, SDN can be seen as a set of technologies that will reinvent networking so that it no longer acts as the bottleneck in the computing revolution ushered in by cloud and virtualization.

At the event, HP articulated a more specific vision of SDN that is also fundamentally more positive. In a series of product announcements, the company demonstrated that it is moving beyond this data centric approach to address campus-wide networking needs, applying evolved SDN capabilities to help businesses grapple with pragmatic operational issues. Based on this evolution of SDN, HP believes that ultimately, the network — powered by a SDN app ecosystem — can serve as a source for the creation of new business value. As stated by Kash Shaikh, senior director, product and technical marketing, HP Networking, the goal of HP’s development work has been to address a key business concern — transition of the network from a "cost centre to an enabler of new opportunity." And by helping clients unlock the business value in networking, the company hopes to differentiate for leadership in the increasingly busy, and competitive SDN marketscape.

HP’s SDN innovation has been targeted at three primary customer challenges: the need to embrace mobility through delivery of a consistent experience to users across the network; the need to reduce complexity for network administrators who are increasingly expected to ‘do more with less’ budget; and the need to build network agility through advanced SDN programmability. As can be seen in the HP product announcements below, these themes reverberate across each of the additions to the company’s networking portfolio. At Interop, HP launched:

 

  • The HP Cloud Managed Network, a network management solution aimed at SMBs and distributed offices which may not have adequate in-house networking skills. The cloud-based service has been optimized for quick network deployment, and enables the customer to rely solely on a controller and cloud-managed access points in operation of the wireless LAN. Since the solution has low upfront costs and requires no dedicated IT staff, HP has calculated that it delivers a reduction in total cost of ownership of up to 30 percent.
  • HP 560 (for enterprise) and 517 (for SMB) IEEE 802.11ac wireless access points which feature speeds three times faster than 802.11n to help customers manage increased traffic from the influx of mobile devices. The HP 560 access points are also OpenFlow-enabled, to support eventual SDN deployments and thereby "future proof" client networks.
  • New controller appliances that deliver consistent policy management across wired and wireless networks to "unify customer experience" and "eliminate swivel-chair management." The appliances come in two flavours: the HP 870 Unified Wired-WLAN Appliance which supports up to 30,000 devices (with 40 percent higher scalability than is found in competitive solutions, according to HP), and the HP 850 Unified Wired-WLAN Appliance for SMEs, which supports up to 10,000 devices.

Domenic Wilde, VP, global product line management, HP Networking
Domenic Wilde, VP, global product line management, HP Networking

By delivering unified network management and support for increasing mobile traffic, these solutions reduce complexity for network administrators while improving performance for end users. And easier deployment — in both the cloud and on-premise solutions — for unified wired/wireless solutions is a good example of what Domenic Wilde, VP, global product line management, HP Networking, described as HP’s "relentless driving to simplicity." As part of this commitment, HP is also working to drive simplicity in the complex world of SDN through adoption of an app approach to networking. Responding to a suggestion in a keynote panel devoted to SDN that programmable networking entails the acquisition of new developer skillsets, Wilde observed: "it’s not true that everyone has to become a programmer overnight. Some [users] will program to Northbound Interfaces, but we are creating turnkey solutions, in concert with an application ecosystem of 35 partners, that enable deployment of dynamic capabilities without programming." Launched at the event, these "turnkey solutions" represent a first stage in what HP views as the art-of-the possible with OpenFlow enabled SDN — the creation of apps that will deliver not only improved network performance, but ultimately new, identifiable business value that IT can bring to the table in discussions with the C-suite. New "turnkeys" introduced at Interop include:

  • The Network Optimizer SDN App, which relies on OpenFlow to optimize network performance in Microsoft’s Lync product. A joint project with Microsoft, the solution aims at creating the best experience for unified collaboration by delivering better call quality through optimization of UC&C network traffic; reducing configuration complexity with OpenFlow programmability; and improving IT agility through improved UC&C traffic visibility and control. According to Steve Brar, manager, global products and solutions marketing, HP Networking, the solution, which was demoed last year, has been shown to demonstrate an improvement in call quality of up to 270% and an 80% reduction in operational complexity.  The partners are now working on commercial availability for Optimizer SDN.
  • The Network Protection SDN App, which grew out of HP’s Sentinel SDN application, provides security at the edge of the network by redirecting website requests to the Reputational Digital Vaccine repository for a security check before granting access. Brar noted that the solution protect against over 1.5 million threats on a daily basis, keeping user data and privacy protected in real-time. Since threats can’t pass into the network, the solution offers proactive IT threat detection to keep user devices safe, while lowering costs by reducing the need for additional, dedicated security technology such as deep packet inspection.
  • Beyond apps targeted at improving network performance, the company also introduced HP Location Aware SDN, an application developed in concert with HP Labs, that locates any wireless-enabled device indoors with approximately two meter accuracy– which HP reports is up to five times greater accuracy than with competing alternatives. According to HP, this location identification does not require additional access points — it’s not necessary to increase AP density in order to increase accuracy of location identification. This precision is a critical breakthrough, according to Wilde, as it enables the development of wide range of context-aware applications in areas such as retail, asset management and security, which, when integrated with the HP Virtual Application Networks (VAN) SDN controller, can help businesses "transform wireless LAN infrastructure into revenue-generating vehicles." To demonstrate this potential, HP has combined analytics capabilities in its Telco Big Data and Analytics and HP Communications and Media Solutions with the Location Aware technology, to create a proof-of-concept application called SmartShopper. Targeted at services providers and retailers, SmartShopper allows businesses to locate the shopper, leverage data to analyze his/her preferences, and distribute real-time targeted offers to the customer’s device. The goal is to improve customer loyalty and ultimately, monetize the network through personalization of the shopping experience and increase sales through the promotion of relevant products.

If this agenda appears ambitious, it is. But Wilde advised SDN users to "start with small, practical steps — to look at operation issues that are day to day annoyances, simple things that you can automate and ask vendors for solutions to specific problems." To help, HP has introduced HP SDN Roadmap Services, designed as a pragmatic and detailed roadmap that aligns SDN transformation with business goals. New HP services include a BYOD service, architectural design services, and pro-active care services that can reduce downtime by up to 60%, in addition to ExpertOne education and certification services for SDN app developers.

As it looks to differentiate, HP has cited current SDN deployments — 25 million ports and counting — as validation of its open approach to SDN.  Based on the OpenFlow protocol, HP SDN has strong appeal to customers looking to maintain flexibility and avoid vendor lock in. PCL Constructors Inc., for example, an Edmonton-based construction firm that upgraded from 1 gigabyte to 10 gigabyte networking capacity with HP switches two years back, related its experience in a customer panel at Interop, noting the importance of open standards to its decision in favour of  HP technology: as Joel Godbout, networking and communications team lead for PCL Constructors, explained, "We were not looking for SDN at that time, but we were certainly aware of the technology, and the fact that HP switches were open standards had a big impact on our decision. We were impressed by HP’s commitment to SDN — it’s important to be future proofed because we are growing so fast, and we wanted to be sure that whatever we purchased today would still be relevant two to three years down the road."

But "openness" is also a key strategy for HP as it builds an ecosystem of app developers, who now have access to a full SDK for HP SDN. And by exposing traffic data and information from the hardware layer through the Northbound Interface, HP is enabling a new world of creative solutions that Jacob Rapp, HP manager of SDN marketing, outlined in a presentation on the future of networking. Case in point is Hyperglance, an IT modelling and visualization tool from RealStatus that connects into SDN controllers to develop a typology with attributes and metrics that offer a real time, single-pane-of-glass view into the user’s entire SDN deployment. The goal is to identify and address traffic flow issues, but also to provide a three dimensional view of the network that is accessible to management.

Currently, RealStatus supports the OpenDaylight and the HP SDN VAN controllers and has done some initial integration work with the NEC PFC, Floodlight and the Big Switch Controller, with a mix of open source to commercial technology that is approximately 50/50. According to company CTO Stace Hipperson, "it only took two weeks to build the basic integration with [the HP SDN] VAN. Our product is built for this kind of integration so we can iterate rapidly." But Hipperson also attributed integration ease to HP’s open platform approach: "The HP VAN controller was easier to integrate with than others because it is stable, well thought out and HP provide excellent support. OpenFlow enables easy interaction and integration because it’s a standard and as long as you adhere to that standard (or come close) anyone building on that benefits." Hipperson’s endorsement is strong affirmation of the approach that HP has taken as it looks to transition SDN from providing infrastructure to providing quality of service: as Rapp concluded, "it’s all about the apps."

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