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HP adds Pica8 to broaden use of Altoline SDN switch

HP agrees to resell the Pica8 network operating system on the Altoline SDN switch.

HP has agreed to sell its Altoline switches with Pica8 Inc.'s network operating system (NOS), a move that adds another third-party option to HP's software-defined networking (SDN) controller.

The reseller agreement, announced this week, marks the third operating system available with HP's line of open-networking SDN switches. The others are HP's OS and Cumulus Networks' Linux-based NOS.

The HP and Pica8 operating systems are for companies that want to use HP's Virtual Application Networks (VAN) SDN Controller. The three products use OpenFlow as the communication protocol for telling network switches where to send packets.

Cumulus takes a different approach. An SDN switch powered by its NOS is managed as if it is another type of Linux server. IT staff familiar with Linux use the same management tools and processes for a Cumulus-powered switch.

HP is willing to support different networking approaches on its bare-metal Altoline switches to bolster their biggest selling point -- a choice of NOS. "Bare-metal switching is all about giving data center operators flexibility in how they combine and deploy network hardware and software," said Shamus McGillicuddy, analyst at Enterprise Management Associates Inc., based in Boulder, Colo.

HP's pursuit of choice may eventually lead to providing more options for the SDN controller. "We are heavily involved with OpenDaylight [Project] and work closely with OpenDaylight, so I don't want to make a statement that says it's always going to be the HP VAN SDN Controller," said Sean Maddox Sr., business developer for HP Network Support Services.

The OpenDaylight Project, which is hosted by the Linux Foundation, is an open source consortium creating platform-neutral SDN technology. The project plans to develop an SDN controller, protocol plug-ins, SDN applications, virtual overlay networks and northbound interfaces. Founding members include Cisco, Big Switch Networks Inc., Brocade Communications Systems Inc., IBM, Juniper Networks Inc., Microsoft and Red Hat Inc.

HP provides support for Altoline hardware and software, including Pica8's PicOS and Cumulus Linux. The switches also come with access to more than 40 applications on the HP SDN App Store.

Use cases for Cumulus, Pica8

Whether a company uses Cumulus or Pica8 software depends on the networking problem it wants to solve. "It's a matter of different NOSes serving different use cases and market segments," said Brad Casemore, analyst at IDC, based in Framingham, Mass.

Cumulus appeals to companies that have lots of Linux servers, as well as a DevOps staff that wants to use the same processes and tools for network automation across the data center infrastructure, Casemore said. Pica8 appeals to companies that favor OpenFlow and more traditional networking.

"For tech buyers, the NOS choice will be determined by their application environment and their operational preferences," he said.

Primarily, three types of companies are gravitating to bare-metal switches, according to experts. They include Web-scale companies -- such as Facebook and Google -- cloud-based businesses and data center operators.

HP and other bare-metal switch makers, such as Dell and Juniper Networks, are hoping to steer Cisco customers away from its SDN platform, called the Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI).  ACI is dependent on Cisco hardware, which HP and the rest argue is a disadvantage.

Nevertheless, this month, Cisco reported that Denmark-based Danske Bank became its 1,000th ACI customer since shipping the technology about a year ago. Cisco's share of the global switching market grew slightly in the second quarter to nearly 60%, according to IDC. HP had a 9.5% share.

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