HP Adds Second Third-Party OS to Open Networking Switches
A sign is posted outside of the Hewlett-Packard headquarters in Palo Alto, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

HP Adds Second Third-Party OS to Open Networking Switches

Pica8 gives commodity switch line another OS option and OpenFlow support

HP will ship its open networking switches for data centers with an operating system by Pica8, the second non-HP switch software certified for the product line. HP added the option of Linux-based switch software by Cumulus Networks in February.

HP and several other major suppliers of data center networking gear have been introducing open networking switches that can be used with third-party software since last year. The product lines are targeted at web-scale data center operators like Google, Facebook, and other cloud service providers who want more choice than the incumbent switch vendors have traditionally given them.

Juniper announced its “white box” line in collaboration with Taiwanese manufacturer Alpha Networks in December 2014. Another Taiwanese manufacturer, Accton Technology Group, makes the hardware for HP’s open networking switches, called Altoline. Dell and Cumulus rolled out Dell’s open networking line with Cumulus software in January of last year.

Cisco has not done anything along the same lines. Seemingly to demonstrate that the world’s largest data center networking vendor has not locked itself out of the web-scale market by continuing to sell closed, integrated hardware-software bundles, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said on an earnings call in August that the company had delivered a custom high-end networking platform for one of the “cloud titans.”

Even though some of the web-scale operators design their own switches and source them from Asian design manufacturers directly – Google has been doing so for years, and Facebook started on this path recently – HP continues to compete for that business, Sean Maddox, senior business developer for HP Network Support Services, said.

“We’re talking to the hyperscale players,” he said. “You know who they are by name.”

But there is also a lot of interest in the product line from large enterprises and companies HP considers mid-market, he added. His team has daily interactions with non-hyperscale operators who want to learn about the economics of the approach.

Besides an operating system, Pica8’s NOS gives HP’s Altoline switches something Cumulus does not: support for OpenFlow, the popular open Software Defined Networking standard. This means it can take advantage of applications in HP’s relatively recent SDN App Store, a hub for SDN application by HP and others.

If the interest in open networking and commodity switches is growing among non-hyperscale customers, a big question for HP is what the trend will mean for its more traditional, integrated networking solutions in the future, since large enterprise and mid-market customers have been the primary users of the integrated solutions.

Today, there is enough differentiation between the two approaches to ensure one doesn’t eat into the other’s market share, according to Maddox. HP’s traditional networking lines provide network fabric capabilities and a rich feature set the commodity line does not. “There are more knobs you can turn on those things than you’re going to find today in an open networking solution,” he said.

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