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HP rallies partners around OpenSwitch as Cisco replacement

The HP-led OpenSwitch community is likely to attract the interest of large enterprises with Web-scale data centers.

HP's recent launch of an open source community dedicated to building a network operating system is its latest bid to build a competitive alternative to Cisco hardware found in most data centers.

HP introduced the OpenSwitch group this week, along with a list of contributors that included switch maker Accton Technology Corp., chipmakers Intel and Broadcom Corp., security vendor Qosmos Inc. and VMware, which competes with Cisco in the software-defined networking (SDN) market.

A developer preview of the OpenSwitch operating system is available today. The group plans to have a production-ready version of the top-of-rack OS in the first half of next year, said Mark Carroll, vice president and CTO at HP Networking.

When ready for production, OpenSwitch will be one of several network operating systems (NOS) available to organizations that prefer to run the NOS of their choice on a bare-metal switch, an approach called "disaggregation" in the industry. Companies selling such software today include Cumulus Networks, Pica8 Inc., Big Switch Networks Inc., IP Infusion and Pluribus Networks. Open Network Linux is an open source NOS.

Despite the many options, the young market has room for another, said Brad Casemore, analyst for IDC, based in Framingham, Mass. IDC research shows some vendors have more mind share than others, but none are leading the market.

"Until the market anoints a third-party NOS as a clear market leader for network disaggregation, the field is wide open," Casemore said.

OpenSwitch's market differentiator could come from doing more than just switching, said Dan Conde, analyst for Enterprise Strategy Group Inc. (ESG), based in Milford, Mass. For example, contributor Qosmos could provide deep packet inspection (DPI) technology.

Cisco's response to OpenSwitch challenge

When ready, OpenSwitch's largest competitor will be Cisco, which leads the switching market with a 60% share of global revenue, according to IDC. The company built its business over the last two decades by selling proprietary hardware and software as a tightly integrated package.

Until the market anoints a third-party NOS as a clear market leader for network disaggregation, the field is wide open.
Brad Casemoreanalyst at IDC

The market is changing, however. In a recent survey of enterprises, 39% wanted the freedom to choose network hardware separately from software, according to ESG.

Asked about the HP announcement, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said he believed the future in networking was less about buying single switches, and more about buying networking systems that included analytics and security. Robbins added, however, that the company is open to one day having its NOS run on a virtual machine in an x86 server.

"We do not have religion -- long term -- about how this issue plays out," Robbins said during an event at Cisco's corporate headquarters in San Jose, Calif.

Many companies surveyed by ESG also did not have religion about buying disaggregated hardware and software. Fully, 38% of the respondents wanted to reduce operational expenses from the networking products they bought, and 36% wanted to cut capital expenses.

OpenSwitch aimed at Web-scale data centers

Initially, OpenSwitch supporters will try to interest large companies running Web-scale data centers. Such organizations, which include financial institutions and cloud service providers, favor running switching hardware separately from the NOS.

"If they [large companies] adopt OpenSwitch, which HP presumably will support with other software, as well as its hardware, HP will be in position to increase its account presence and market share relative to competitors, including Cisco," Casemore said.

OpenSwitch could also be used eventually in more mainstream enterprise data centers and communication service providers, he said.

If OpenSwitch becomes more enterprise-friendly, HP could leverage its strength in the server market to work its way up to top-of-rack switching. In the second quarter, HP was first in the server market, accounting for more than a quarter of worldwide revenue, according IDC.

"The best way for HP to get deeper in the switch market is to leverage its HP server market share," said John Fruehe, analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, based in Austin, Texas.

HP's strategy is to win customers by letting them choose the NOS they want to run on the company's Altoline switch. Companies today can run Cumulus' Linux-based OS, Pica8's PicOS or HP's NOS. OpenSwitch will eventually become another option. HP provides support for software and hardware on its Altoline products.

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