HP flicks white box switch: NOT a Facebook wannabe? Stuff our open kit in your cloud

Cisco waits with baseball bat. Can HP hold its own?


Less than a week after Cisco's John Chambers dismissed the “white box” switch category, HP has entered that market with its own open architecture switches.

The company wants to start with “web scale” cloud operators who don't want to imitate Facebook or Google and run up their own systems from scratch.

However, according to CTO and VP Mark Carroll, HP hopes to see adoption among lower-tier clouds and enterprise customers as well (more or less following Dell into the same space).

The switches are a partnership between HP, Cumulus Networks and Accton Technology, a set of names that plants the kit firmly into the odiously named “brite box” market (thanks, Gartner, take your jacket on the way out).

The product line kicks off with two variants: 10 Gbps / 40 Gbps spine and 10 Gbps leaf data centre switches, shipping with the Cumulus Linux operating system configured for zero touch OS installation.

In line with what the open switch market expects, the HP solutions will include a bootloader so customers can choose a different operating system should they wish.

Carroll said the switches will have Open Compute Project certification “very soon”.

Carroll said two things will set the solution apart from pure-play white-box switches: its ability to “de-risk” the supply chain and a global support operation.

Given that HP is also staying in the switching business with its more traditional offerings, El Reg asked if open network devices weren't going to be bought merely on price.

“The economics of the hardware is attractive,” Carroll said, “but there's a more important trend: the disaggregation of hardware from software, and having access to that control point in the switch.”

He said the open switches fitted well with the DevOps model: “Developers don't have a connection all the way down the stack, and they want it. They want application awareness all the way down the stack.”

Singing from the Facebook hymnbook, Carroll also said that open switch customers are after the diagnostic capabilities that they get from deeper access to the switch silicon: “Customers like being able to use third party instrumentation in Linux to get visibility through the network.”

As for Cisco's dismissal of the white-box market, Carroll countered by citing Gartner's estimate that the segment is growing at around 10 per cent annually.

As upstart vendors with OCP backgrounds sign up more partnerships with the big names, he says, it's likely to unlock lower-tier customers: “What's blocking them is that they don't have the personnel to turn on the solution,” he commented.

The switches will hit the market in March. ®


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