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HP open switches mark the latest challenge to Cisco

HP introduced two Altoline open switches that increase the company's portfolio of alternatives to Cisco's proprietary hardware.

HP upped its bare-metal switch arsenal with two products that target cloud providers and Internet companies looking for an open alternative to Cisco's networking gear.

Introduced this week, the Altoline 5712 and 6712 top-of-rack open switches are the latest products from the partnership between HP and Taiwan-based hardware manufacturer Accton Technology Corp. The companies introduced the Altoline brand of Ethernet switches in February.

HP, Dell and Juniper Networks Inc. have embraced switch designs developed by the Open Compute project (OCP), a community of engineers building nonproprietary data center hardware. The OCP's work poses a threat to Cisco and other proprietary switch makers, because the hardware developed, combined with software that provides network intelligence, could breed less expensive alternatives to the vendor's products.

"They [HP and others] all see an opportunity to target data center operators that don't want to go with the traditional, vertically integrated Cisco approach," said Shamus McGillicuddy, analyst at Enterprise Management Associates Inc., based in Boulder, Colo.

Companies most interested in OCP designs are large cloud providers and Web companies. Contributors to the project, started by Facebook, include Intel, Microsoft, Rackspace and Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

"These types of companies [cloud providers, Web companies] want low-cost, highly programmable and flexible networking products," said McGillicuddy.

Specs for latest Altoline open switches

The Altoline 5712 is a 10 GbE leaf switch and the 6712 is a 40 GbE spine switch, both used in leaf-spine architectures. Both support a Virtual Extensible LAN (VXLAN), which is an encapsulation protocol for running an overlay network on an existing Layer 3 networking infrastructure. Intel Atom processors power the switches.

The switches include the Open Network Install Environment (ONIE), an open source technology that makes it possible to choose the network operating system (NOS) loaded onto a bare-metal switch. When HP introduced the Altoline brand in February, the switches were available with Cumulus Networks' Linux NOS. The new products introduce the option of having Pica8 Inc.'s PicOS.

HP provides support and services for hardware and software. The hardware warranty covers replacement parts for three years. Parts are replaced within 10 business days. Customers pay more for faster delivery.

By the end of the year, HP plans to expand the Altoline to include 25, 50 and 100 GbE switches. Analysts are convinced the vendor is committed to building a broad portfolio of open networking equipment.

"We should anticipate an expansion of HP's open-switching hardware portfolio, as well as of the number of third-party NOS vendors with which HP will partner," said Brad Casemore, analyst at IDC, based in Framingham, Mass.

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