HP confirmed its role as a leading light in the commercial availability of software defined networking (SDN)-based products at a New York launch event this week.
SDN aims to allow the users of network hardware to fully control their networks in the way they want, without being blocked by the proprietary controls traditionally contained in the expensive "black boxes" sold by the networking hardware vendors.
The Open Network Foundation (ONF) promoted the concept of software defined networking (SDN) at a NetEvents conference in Germany at the beginning of this year, and SDN was the hottest topic at a further NetEvents conference in the Algarve last week.
The ONF says SDN promises to efficiently automate network configuration, improve network performance and reduce total cost of ownership.
At the heart of SDN is OpenFlow, a communications protocol that gives access to the forwarding plane of a network switch or router over the network. OpenFlow allows the path of network packets through a network of switches to be determined by software running on a separate, basic and cheaper server.
This separation of the control from the forwarding allows for more sophisticated traffic management than what is feasible using access control lists (ACLs) and routing protocols, bypassing some of the more expensive proprietary software sold with networking hardware.
Although a number of networking equipment vendors now sell products that have SDN capabilities built into them, HP claims it is playing a "leading role" in SDN.
Earlier this year it announced that 16 of its switch products would support SDN. And at the New York launch, HP announced a further nine switches around its HP3800 range would come with SDN capabilities.
In addition, HP launched a Virtual Application Networks Controller that could control SDN capabilities in switches from multiple vendors - to support the open source development nature of SDN.
HP said the new controller had already been used by CERN in Switzerland to help with their hefty data load balancing requirements. The controller is available as a software download or as a managed appliance.
HP is offering network provisioning and security capabilities with the product too. Pricing for the standalone controller and the extra services are to be confirmed.
In addition, HP is offering SDN services to help firms get on the roll-out and development ladder. These include SDN "experience workshops" that include case studies, and baseline assessments for SDN network provisioning and proof of concepts for those considering SDN.
Mike Banic, vice president of global marketing for networking at HP, said: "These announcements deliver the automation and scalability required in the virtual cloud environment."
He said: "There are already 10 million OpenFlow-enabled switch points using HP infrastructure, and these products will help take the figure to 15 million - we are taking a leadership role."
Cisco, Dell and IBM are among those suppliers who offer their own SDN solutions. Dell said HP was making too much hay about the number of SDN-capable switches it had in its installed base.
Arpit Joshipura, Dell Networking vice president of product marketing, said: "The 10 million ports figure HP is using is meaningless really as most of those ports will be used with hybrid connectivity and technologies with most not even having OpenFlow turned on."
When asked how many SDN-capable ports Dell had in the field, Joshipura would only confirm it was much less. "In enterprise networking you've got Cisco and HP ahead of us in terms of business, so it stands to reason we will have less SDN-capable ports than HP in the field."
On the question of whether enterprises were ready to take advantage of SDN, Ian Keene, an analyst at Gartner, said many organisations wouldn't have the internal skills to write their own switch controller software, and that those who wanted it would perhaps get someone else to do it as part of a wider managed service deal.
"Perhaps it will be greenfield sites likely to move first as they won't have to modify kit already in their data centres," said Keene.