HP Networking and the Software Defined Store

HP

HP has had a pretty good track record with SDN.  Even if it’s not very well-known.  HP has embraced OpenFlow on a good number of its Procurve switches.  Given the age of these devices, there’s a good chance you can find them laying around in labs or in retired network closets to test with.  But where is that going to lead in the long run?

HP Networking was kind enough to come to Interop New York and participate in a Tech Field Day roundtable.  It had been a while since I talked to their team.  I wanted to see how they were handling the battle being waged between OpenFlow proponents like NEC and Brocade, Cisco and their hardware focus, and VMware with NSX.  Jacob Rapp and Chris Young (@NetManChris) stepped up to the plate to talk about SDN and the vision on HP.

They cover a lot of ground in here.  Probably the most important piece to me is the SDN app store.

The press picked up on this quickly.  HP has an interesting idea here.  I should know.  I mentioned it in passing in an article I wrote a month ago.  The more I think about the app store model, the more I realize that many vendors are going to go down the road.  Just not in the way HP is thinking.

HP wants to curate content for enterprises.  They want to ensure that software works with their controller to be sure that there aren’t any hiccups in implementation.  Given their apparent distaste for open source efforts, it’s safe to say that their efforts will only benefit HP customers.  That’s not to say that those same programs won’t work on other controllers.  So long as they operate according to the guidelines laid down by the Open Networking Foundation, all should be good.

Show Me The Money

Where’s the value then?  That’s in positioning the apps in the store.  Yes, you’re going to have some developers come to HP and want to simple apps to put in the store.  Odds are better that you’re going to see more recognizable vendors coming to the HP SDN store.  People are more likely to buy software from a name they recognize, like TippingPoint or F5.  That means that those companies are going to want to have a prime spot in the store.  HP is going to make something from hosting those folks.

The real revenue doesn’t come from an SMB buying a load balancer once.  It comes from a company offering it as a service with a recurring fee.  The vendor gets a revenue stream. HP would be wise to work out a recurring fee as well.  It won’t be the juicy 30% cut that Apple enjoys from their walled garden, but anything would be great for the bottom line.  Vendors win from additional sales.  Customers win from having curated apps that work every time that are easy to purchase, install, and configure.  HP wins because everyone comes to them.

Fragmentation As A Service

Now that HP has jumped on the idea of an enterprise-focused SDN app store, I wonder which company will be the next to offer one?  I also worry that having multiple app stores won’t end up being cumbersome in the long run.  Small developers won’t like submitting their app to four or five different vendor-affiliated stores.  More likely they’ll resort to releasing code on their own rather than jump through hoops.  That will eventually lead to support fragmentation.  Fragmentation helps no one.


Tom’s Take

HP Networking did a great job showcasing what they’ve been doing in SDN.  It was also nice to hear about their announcements the day before they broke wide to the press.  I think HP is going to do well with OpenFlow on their devices.  Integrating OpenFlow visibility into their management tools is also going to do wonders for people worried about keeping up with all the confusing things that SDN can do to a traditional network.  The app store is a very intriguing concept that bears watching.  We can only hope that it ends up being a well-respect entry in a long line of easing customers into the greater SDN world.

Tech Field Day Disclaimer

HP was a presenter at the Tech Field Day Interop Roundtable.  In addition, they also provided the delegates a 1TB USB3 hard disk drive.  They did not ask for any consideration in the writing of this review nor were they promised any.  The conclusions and analysis contained in this post are mine and mine alone.

DST Configuration – Just In the Nick of Time

Today is the dreaded day in the US (and other places) when we must sacrifice an hour of our precious time to the sun deity so that he might rise again in the morning.  While this is great for being outdoors and enjoying the sunshine all the way into the late evening hours, it does wreak havoc on our networking equipment that relies on precise timing to let us know when a core dump happened or when that last PRI call came in when running debug isdn q931.  However, getting the right time running on our devices can be a challenge.  In this post, I will cover configuring Daylight Savings Time on Cisco, HP, and Juniper network equipment for the most pervasive OS deployments.  Note that some configurations are more complicated than others.  Also, I will be using Central Time (CST/CDT) for my examples, which is GMT -6 (-5 in DST).  Adjust as necessary for your neck of the woods.  I’m also going to assume that you’ve configured NTP/SNTP on your devices.  If not, read my blog post about it and go do that first.  Don’t worry, I’ll still be here when you get back.  I have free time.

Cisco

I’ve covered the basics of setting DST config on Cisco IOS before, but I’ll put it here for the sake of completeness.  In IOS (and IOS XR), you must first set the time zone for your device:

R1(config)# clock timezone <name> <GMT offset>
R1(config)# clock timezone CST -6

Easy, right?  Now for the fun part.  Cisco has always required manual configuration of DST on their IOS devices.  This is likely due to them being shipped all around the world and various countries observing DST (or not) and even different regions observing it differently.  At any rate, you must the clock summer-time command to configure your IOS clock to jump when needed.  Note that in the US, DST begins at 2:00 a.m. local time on the second Sunday in March and ends a 2:00 a.m. local time on the first Sunday in November.  That will help you decode this code string:

R1(config)# clock summer-time <name> recurring <week number start> <day> <month> <time to start> <week number end> <day> <month> <time to end>
R1(config)# clock summer-time CDT recurring 2 Sun Mar 2:00 1 Sun Nov 2:00

Now your clock will jump when necessary on the correct day.  Note that this was a really handy configuration requirement to have in 2007, when the US government decided to change DST from the previous requirement of the first Sunday in April at the start and the last Sunday in October to end.  With Cisco, manual reconfiguration was required, but no OS updates were needed.

HP (Procurve/E-Series and H3C/A-Series)

As near as I can tell, all HP Networking devices derive their DST settings from the OS.  That’s great…unless you’re working on an old device or one that hasn’t been updated since the last presidential administration.  It turns out that many old HP Procurve network devices still have the pre-2007 US DST rules hard-coded in the OS.  In order to fix them, you’re going to need to plug in a config change:

ProCurve(config)# time daylight-time-rule user-defined begin-date 3/8 end-date 11/1

I know what you’re thinking.  Isn’t that going to be a pain to change every year if the dates are hard-coded?  Turns out the HP guys were ahead of us on that one too.  The system is smart enough to know that DST always happens on a Sunday.  By configuring the rule to occur on March 8th (the earliest possible second Sunday in March) and November 1st (the earliest possible first Sunday in November), the system will wait until the Sunday that matches or follows that date to enact the DST for the device.  Hooray for logic!  Note that if you upgrade the OS of your device to a release that supports the correct post-2007 DST configuration, you won’t need to remove the above configuration.  It will work correctly.

Juniper

Juniper configures DST based on the information found in the IANA Timezone Database, often just called tz.  First, you want to get your device configured for NTP.  I’m going to refer you to Rich Lowton’s excellent blog post about that.  After you’ve configured your timezone in Junos, the system will automatically correct your local clock to reflect DST when appropriate.  Very handy, and it makes sense when you consider that Junos is based heavily on BSD for basic OS operation.  One thing that did give me pause about this has nothing to do with Junos itself, but with the fact that there have been issues with the tz database, even as late as last October.  Thankfully, that little petty lawsuit was sidestepped thanks to the IANA taking control of the tz database.  Should you find yourself in need of making major changes to the Junos tz database without the need to do a complete system update, check out these handy instructions for setting a custom timezone over at Juniper’s website.  Just don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty with some BSD commands.


Tom’s Take

Daylight Savings Time is one of my least favorite things.  I can’t see the advantage of having that extra hour of daylight to push the sunlight well past bedtime for my kids.  Likewise, I think waking up to sunrise is overrated.  As a networking professional, DST changes give me heartburn even when everything runs correctly.  And I’m not even going to bring up the issues with phone systems like CallManager 4.x and the “never going to be patched” DST issues with Windows 2000.  Or the Java issues with 79xx phones that still creep up to this day and make DST and confusing couple of weeks for those that won’t upgrade technology. Or even the bugs in the iPhone with DST that cause clocks to spring the wrong way or alarms to fail to fire at the proper time.  In the end though, network enginee…rock stars are required to pull out our magical bags and make everything “just work”.  Thanks to some foresight by major networking vendors, it’s fairly easy to figure out DST changes and have them applied automagically.  It’s also easy to change things when someone decides they want their kids to have an extra hour of daylight to go trick-or-treating at Halloween (I really wish I was kidding).  If you make sure you’ve taken care of everything ahead of time, you won’t have to worry about losing more than just one hour of sleep on the second Sunday in March.

HP – Wireless Field Day 2

The penultimate presentation at Wireless Field Day 2 was from HP.  Their wireless unit had presented at Wireless Field Day 1 and had a 2-hour slot at WFD2.  We arrived at the soon-to-be demolished HP Executive Briefing center in Cupertino and paid our final respects to the Dirty Chai Machine:

First off, I want you to read their presentation from WFD1.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.  Back?  Good.  For starters, the wireless in the EBC wasn’t working for everyone.  Normally, I’d have just plugged in the provided 15-foot Ethernet cord, but as I was running on my new Macbook Air, I was sans-Ethernet for the first time.  We finally got the Internet going by foregoing the redirect to the captive portal and just going there ourselves, so I wasn’t overly concerned.  Rob Haviland then got us started with an overview of HP’s wireless product line:

With all due respect to Rob, I think he kind of missed the mark here.  I’ve been told by many people that Rob is a very bright guy from the 3Com/H3C acquisition and did a great job getting technical at Interop.  However, I think the presentation here for HP Wireless was aimed at the CxO level and not for the wireless nerds.  As you watch the video, you’ll hear Rocky Gregory chime in just a bit into the presentation that talking to us about the importance of a wireless site survey is a bit like preaching to the choir.  We do this stuff all day every day in our own jobs.  We not only know the importance of things like this, we evangelize it to people as well.  It reminded me a bit of the WFD1 Cisco presentation over CleanAir that Jennifer Huber had given several time to her customers.  In fact, I even asked during the presentation if these “new” access points Rob was talking about were different from the ones we saw previously.  With one exception, they weren’t.  The new AP is the 466-R, an outdoor version of the MSM466.  It’s a ruggedized AP designed to be hung almost anywhere, and it even includes a heater!  Of course, if you want the heater to work, you need to be sure to provide 802.3at power or an external power supply.  Unlike the Cisco Aironet bridges that I’m familiar with implementing, the MSM466-R uses an RJ-45 connection to hook it into the network as opposed to the coax-to-power-injector method.  I’m not entirely sure I’m comfortable running at Cat-5 cable out of my building and plugging it directly into the AP.  I’d much rather see some kind of midspan device sitting inline to provide a handoff.  That’s just me, though.  The MSM466-R also weighs about a third of what comparable outdoor APs weigh, according to Jennifer, who has put some of these in for her customers.  We also spent some time talking about advanced features like band steering your clients away from 2.4 GHz to 5 GHz and the impact that can have on latency in voice calls.  It appears to take 200 msec for a client to be steered toward the 5 GHz radio on an AP according to HP, which can cause hiccups and delay in the voice call.  Sam Clements wondered if the values for those timers were configurable at all, but according to HP they are not.  This could be a huge impact for clients on VoIP calls on a laptop that is roaming across a wireless campus.  I think I’m going to have to spend a little more time digging into this.

After a 10 minute break, we jumped into the new controller that HP is offering, the MSM720 mobility controller.  This unit is marketed toward the lower end of the product line and is targeted to the market of less that 40 APs.  In fact, 40 is the most it will hold.  There is a premium version of the MSM720 that doesn’t hold any more APs but does turn on some additional capabilities like high availability and real-time location services.  This generated a big discussion about licensing models and the desire for customers to absorb additional costs to find out they gained significant features.  I work in a vertical where people are very price-sensitive.  But I also understand that many of the features that we use to market products to people evaporate when you start reducing the “licensed features”.  I’d rather see the most commonly requested features bundled into a single “base” license and they negotiate price points after we’ve agreed on features.  That is a much easier sell that demonstrating all the cool things a product can do, only to have to explain to the customer after the fact, “Well, there is this other license you need…”.  All companies are guilty of this kind of transgression, so I’m not just singling out HP here.  They just happened to be at the watershed moment for our outpouring of distaste over licensing.  The MSM720 is a fine product for the small to medium business that wants the centralized control capability of a controller without breaking the bank.  I’m just not sure how many of them I would end up selling in the long run.

HP’s Oprah Moment was a 2.4 GHz wireless mouse with micro receiver and a pen and paper set.

If you’d like to learn more about HP Wireless, you can check out their website at http://www.hp.com/united-states/wireless/index.html.  You can also follow along with all of their network updates on Twitter as @HP_Networking.

Tom’s Take

This may have been the hardest Tech Field Day review I’ve written.  I feel that HP missed an opportunity here to help show us what makes them so different in wireless.  We got a short overview of technologies we’re already familiar with and two new products targeted at very specific market segments.  The most technical part of our discussion was a block diagram of the AP layout.  There wasn’t any new technology from HP apart from a ruggedized AP.  No talk of Hotspot 2.0 or 802.11ac Gigabit wireless.  In retrospect, after getting to hear from people like Matthew Gast and Victor Shtrom, it was a bit of let down.  I feel like this was a canned presentation designed to be pitched to decision makers and not technical people.  We want nerd knobs and excruciating detail.  From what I’ve heard of Rob Haviland, he can give that kind of presentation.  So, was this a case of of being ill prepared?  Or missing the target audience?  I’m also wondering if the recent upper level concerns inside of HP have caused distraction for the various business units.  The networking people shouldn’t have really been affected by the PSG and Autonomy dealings but who knows at this point.  Is the Mark Hurd R&D decision finally starting to trickle in?  Maybe HP believes that their current AP lineup is rock solid and will keep on trucking for the foreseeable future?  Right now, I don’t have answers to these questions and I don’t know where to find them.  Until I do find those answers though, I’m going to keep a wary eye on HP Wireless.  They’ve shown in the past that they have the capability to impress and innovate.  Now they have to prove it to me again.

Wireless Field Day 2 Disclaimer

HP was a sponsor of Wireless Field Day 2.  As such, they were responsible for covering a portion of my travel and lodging expenses while attending Wireless Field Day 2. In addition, they provided me with a 2.4 GHz wireless mouse with micro receiver and a pen and paper set.  They did not ask for, nor where they promised any kind of consideration in the writing of this review/analysis.  The opinions and analysis provided within are my own and any errors or omissions are mine and mine alone.

Touch-and-Go Pad

By now, you’ve probably heard that HP has decided to axe the TouchPad tablet and mull the future of WebOS as a licensed operating system.  You’ve probably also seen the fire sale that retailers have put on to rid themselves of their mountains of overstocked TouchPads.  I’ve been watching with great interest to see where this leads.

WebOS isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination.  I’ve used a TouchPad briefly and I was fairly impressed.  The basics for a great OS are all there, and the metaphors for things like killing running applications made a little more sense to me than they did in iOS, which is by and large the predominant table OS today (and the most often copied for that matter).  I wasn’t all that thrilled about the hardware, though.  It felt a bit like one of my daughter’s Fisher Price toys.  Plastic, somewhat chunky, and a fingerprint magnet.  WebOS felt okay on the hardware, and from what I’ve heard it positively screams on some newer hardware comparable to that found in the iPad or the Galaxy Tab 10.1.

I think WebOS as an alternative to Android will be very helpful in the long run of recovering HP’s investment.  Google’s recent acquisition of Motorola is probably making companies like HTC and Samsung a little wary, despite what the press releases might say.  Samsung has done a lot with Android in the tablet space, presenting a viable alternative to Apple, or at least as viable as you can get going against that 800-pound gorilla.  They’ll be on the good side of Google for a while to come.  HTC sells a lot on handsets and has already shown that they’re willing to go with the horse that gives them the best chance in the race.  Whether that is Windows Mobile, Android, or someone else depends on which way the wind is blowing on that particular day.  If HP can position WebOS attractively to HTC and get them to start loading it on one or two phone models, it might help give HTC some leverage in their negotiations with other vendors.  Plus, HP can show that the TouchPad was a fluke from the sales perspective and get some nice numbers behind device adoption.  I’m sure that was part of the idea behind the announcement that HP would start preloading WebOS on its PCs and printers (which is probably not going to happen now that HP is shopping their PC business to potential buyers).  More numbers mean better terms for licensing contracts and better fluff to put into marketing releases.

As for the TouchPad itself, I think it’s going to have a life beyond HP.  Due to the large number of them that have been snapped up by savvy buyers, there is a whole ecosystem out there just waiting to be tapped.  There’s already a port of Ubuntu.  XDA has a bounty of $500 for the first Android port to run on it.  With so many devices floating around out there and little to no support from the original manufacturer, firmware hackers are going to have a field day creating new OS loads and shoehorning them into the TouchPad.  I don’t think it’s ever going to be enough to unseat the current table champ, but you have to admit that if the TouchPad was even close to being a competitor to the iPad, the fact that it now costs 1/5th of Fruit Company Tablet is a very enticing offer.  I doubt my mom or my grandmother is going to run out and snap one up, but someone like me that has no qualms about loading unsupported software might decide to take a chance on it.  If nothing else, it might just make a good picture frame.

Tom’s Take

Products have a lifecycle.  That’s why we aren’t still buying last year’s widgets.  Technology especially seems to have a much shorter lifecycle than anything else, with the possible exception of milk.  HP bet big on the TouchPad, but like most of today’s new television shows, when it wasn’t a hit out of the gate it got cancelled in favor of something else.  Maybe the combination of WebOS on this particular hardware wasn’t the optimal device.  We might see WebOS on printers and pop machines in the next 5 years, who knows?  The hardware from the TouchPad itself is going to live on in the hands of people that like building things from nothing keeping dead products breathing for just a little longer.  I’d love to see what a TouchPad running Backtrack 5 would be like.  With all those shiny new clearanced TouchPads floating around out there, I doubt I’m going to have to wait very long.

Flexing Your Muscles – HP Networking Announcements

It’s Interop week, which means a lot of new product announcements coming out on all kinds of interesting hardware and software.  HP is no different and a couple of the products that they’ve got on tap appear to have some interesting designs on how we perceive the idea of a campus network for the coming months.

HP Flex Network Architecture

HP has announced a new network design methodology they refer to as the Flex Network Architecture.  It addresses many of the deficiencies that HP is seeing in network design related to thinking about networks in old ways.  There has been a lot of innovation in networking in recent months but it has been focused primarily on the datacenter.  This isn’t all that surprising, as most of the traction around building large networks has included buzzwords like “cloud” or “fabric” and tend to focus on centralizing the exchange of data.  HP wants to take a great number of these datacenter innovations and push them out to the campus and branch network, where most of us users live.

HP’s three primary areas of focus in the Flex Network are the Flex Fabric, which is the datacenter area that includes unified computing resources and storage, Flex Campus, which is the primary user-facing network area where users connect via technologies such as wireless, and the Flex Branch, where HP is focusing on creating a user experience very similar to that of the Campus users.  To do this, HP is virtually eliminating the lines between what have been historically referred to as “SMB” or “Enterprise” type networks.  I believe this distinction is fairly unnecessary in today’s market, as many branch networks could technically qualify as “Enterprise”, and a lot of campus networks could realistically be considered “SMB”.  By marrying the technology more toward the needs of the site and less to a label, HP can better meet the needs of the environment.

According to HP, there are five key components of the Flex Network:

1. Standards – In order to build a fully resilient architecture, standards are important.  By keeping the majority of your network interoperable with key standards, it allows you to innovate in pockets to improve things like wireless performance without causing major disruptions in other critical areas.

2. Scalability – HP wants to be sure that the solutions they offer are scalable to the height of their capability.  Mike Neilsen summed this up rather well by saying, “What we do, we do well.  What we don’t do well, we don’t do at all.”

3. Security – Security should be enabled all over your network.  It should not be an afterthought, it should be planned in at the very beginning and at every step of the project.  This should be the mantra of every security professional and company out there.

4. Agility – The problem with growing your network is that you lose the ability to be agile.  Network layers quickly overwhelm your ability to quickly make changes and decrease network latency.  HP wants to be sure that Flex allows you to collapse networks down to at most one or two layers to provide the ability to have them running in top condition.

5. Consistency – If you can’t repeat your success every time, you won’t have success.  By leveraging HP’s award winning managment tools like IMC, you can monitor and verify that your network experience is the same for all users.

The focus of the Flex Campus for this briefing is the new A10500-series switch.  This is a new A-series unit designed to go into the core of the campus network and provide high-speed switching for data bound for users.  This would most closely identify with a Cisco Catalyst 6500 switch.  The A10500 is the first switch in HP’s stable to provide IRF in up to 4 chassis.  For those not familiar, Intelligent Resilient Framework (IRF) is the HP method of providing Multiple Link Aggregation (MLAG) between core switches.  By linking multiple chassis together, one logical unit can be presented to the distribution layer to provide fault tolerance and load balancing.  HP’s current A-series switches currently support only 2 chassis in an IRF instance, but the 4IRF technology is planned to be ported to them in the near future.  One of the important areas where HP has done research on the campus core is the area of multimedia.  With the world becoming more video focused and consuming more and more bandwidth dedicated to things like HD Youtube videos and rich user-focused communications, bandwidth is being consumed like alcohol and a trade show.  HP has increased the performance of the A10500 above the Cat 6500 w/ Sup720 modules by reducing latency by 75%, while increasing switching capacity by almost 250%.  There is also a focus on aggregating as many connections as possible.  The launch LPUs (or line cards in Cisco parlance) are a 16-port 10GbE module and a 48-port 1GbE module, with plans to include a 4-port 40GbE and 48-port 10GbE module at some point next year, which should provide 270% more 10GbE density that the venerable Cat 6500. The A10500 comes in 3 flavors, a 4-slot chassis that uses a single crossbar fabric to provide better than 320 Gbps of throughput, and an 8-slot chassis that can mount the LPUs either vertically or horizontally and provide no less than 640 Gbps of throughput.  These throughput numbers are courtesy of the new MPU modules, what Cisco people might call Supervisor engines.  The n+1 fabric modules that tie all the parts and pieces together are called SFMs.  This switch isn’t really designed to go into a datacenter, so there is no current plan to provide FCoE LPUs, but there is strong consideration to support TRILL and SPB in the future to ease the ability to interoperate with datacenter devices.

Another new product that HP is launching is focused on security in the datacenter.  This comes courtesy of the new TippingPoint S6100N.  This is designed to function similarly to an IDS/IPS box, inspecting traffic flying in and out of your datacenter swtiches.  It has the ability to pump up to 16 Gbps of data through the box at once, but once you start inspecting more and more of that traffic, you’ll probably see something closer to 8-10Gbps of throughput.  The S6100N also gives you the ability to have full visibility for VM-to-VM conversations, something that is currently giving many networking and security professionals grief, as much of the traffic being generated in today’s datacenter is generated and destined for virtual machines.  I think there is going to be a real opportunity in the coming months for a device that can provide this kind of visibility without impeding traffic.  HP looks to have a great future with this kind of device.

The third new piece of  the Flex Network Architecture is the addition of Intelligent Management Center (IMC) 5.0 to the Flex Management portion of the Flex Architecture.  The flagship software program for HP’s network management strategy, IMC provide Single Pane of Glass (SPoG) functionality to manage both wired and wireless networks, as well as access control and identity management for both.  It integrates with HP Network Management Center to allow total visibility into your network infrastructure, whether it consist of HP, Procurve, Cisco, 3Com, or Juniper.  There are over 2600 supported devices in IMC that can be monitored and controlled.  In addition, you can use the integrated access controls to control the software being run on the end user workstations and monitor their bandwidth utilization to determine if you’ve got a disproportionately low number of users monopolizing your bandwidth.  IMC is available for installation on a dedicated hardware appliance or in a virtual machine for those that have an invested VMware infrastructure.  You can try it out all the features for 60 days at no charge to see if it fits into your environment and helps alleviate “swivel chair” management.

Tom’s Take

The new HP Flex Architecture gives HP a great hook to provide many new services under a consistent umbrella.  The new addition of the A10500 gives HP a direct competitor to the venerable Cat 6500 platform that can provide high speed connectivity to the campus core without muddying the waters with unnecessary connectivity options, ala the A12500 or Nexus 7000 with their high-priced FCoE capabilities.  The S6100N helps HP begin to focus on the new landscape of datacenter security, where firewalls are less important the visibility into traffic flows between physical and virtual servers.  The IMC update allows all of these pieces to be managed easily from one operations center with no additional effort.  It seems that HP is gearing up to spread out from their recent success in the datacenter and take the fight to the campus and branch office.  I liked what I heard from HP on this call, as it was more of what HP could do and less of what Cisco couldn’t.  So long as HP can continue to bring new and innovative products to the networking marketplace, I think their fortunes have nowhere to go but up.

Tech Field Day – HP Wireless

Day two of Wireless Tech Field Day started off with HP giving us a presentation at their Executive Briefing Center in Cupertino, CA.  As always, we arrived at the location and then immediately went to the Mighty Dirty Chai Machine to pay our respects.  There were even a few new converts to the the Dirty Chai goodness, and after we had all been properly caffeinated, we jumped into the HP briefing.

The first presenter was Rich Horsley, the Wireless Products and Solutions Manager for HP Networking.  He spoke a bit about HP and their move into the current generation of controller-based 802.11n wireless networks through the acquisition of Colubris Networks back in 2008.  They talked at length about some of the new technology they released that I talked about a couple of weeks ago over here.  Rather than have a large slide deck, they instead whiteboarded a good portion of their technology discussion, fielding a number of questions from the assembled delegates about the capabilities of their solutions.  Chris Rubyal, a Wireless Solutions Architect, helped fill in some of the more technical details.

HP has moved to a model where some of the functions previously handled exclusively by the controller have been moved back into the APs themselves.  While not as “big boned” as a solution from Aerohive, this does give the HP access points the ability to segment traffic, such as the case where you want local user traffic to hop off at the AP level to reach a local server, but you want the guest network traffic to flow back to the controller to be sent to a guest access VLAN.  HP has managed to do this by really increasing the processor power in the new APs.  They also have increased antenna coverage on both the send and receive side for much better reception.  However, HP was able to keep the power budget under 15.4 watts to allow for the use of 802.3af standard power over Ethernet (PoE).  I wonder if they might begin to enable features on the APs at a later date that might require the use of 802.3at PoE+ in order to fully utilize everything.  Another curious fact was that if you want to enable layer 3 roaming on the HP controller, you need to purchase an additional license.  Given the number of times I’ve been asked about the ability to roam across networks, I would think this would be an included feature across all models.  I suppose the thinking is that the customer will mention their desire to have the feature up front, so the license can be included in the initial costs, or the customer will bring it up later and the license can be purchased for a small additional cost after the fact.  Either way, this is an issue that probably needs some more visiting down the road as HP begins to get deeper into the wireless market.

After some more discussion about vertical markets and positioning, it was time for a demo from Andres Chavez, a Wireless Solutions Tester.  Andres spends most of his time in the lab, setting up APs and pushing traffic across them.  He did the same for us, using an HP E-MSM460 and iPerf.  The setup worked rather well at first, pushing 300Mbits of data across the AP while playing a trailer for the Star Wars movie on Blu-Ray at full screen in the background.  However, as he increased the stream to 450Mbits per second, Mr. Murphy reared his ugly head and the demo went less smooth at that point.  There were a few chuckles in the audience about this, but you can’t fault HP for showing us in real time what kinds of things their APs are capable of, especially when the demo person wasn’t used to being in front of a live video stream.  One thing that did make me pause was the fact that the 300Mbit video stream pushed the AP’s processor to 99% utilization.  That worried me from the aspect that we were only pushing traffic across one SSID and had no real policies turned on at the AP level.  I wonder what might happen if we enable QoS and some other software things when the AP is already taxed from a processor perspective, not to mention putting 4-clients on at the same time.  When I questioned them about this, they said that there were actually two processor cores in the AP, but one was disabled right now and would be enabled in future updates.  Why disable one processor core instead of letting it kick in and offload some of the traffic?  I guess that’s something that we’ll have to see in the future.

After a break, the guys from HP sat down with the delegates and had a round table discussion about challenges in wireless networking today and future directions.  It was nice to sit down for once and have a discussion with the vendors about these kinds of topics.  Normally, we would have a round table like this if a session ended early, but having it scheduled into our regular briefing time really gave us a chance to explore some topics in greater depth than we might have been able to with only a 5-10 minute window.  Andrew vonNagy brought up an interesting topic about needed better management of user end-node devices.  The idea that we could restrict what a user could access based on their client device is intriguing.  I’d love to be able to set a policy that restricted my iPhone and iPad users to specific applications such as the web or internal web apps.  I could also ensure that my laptop clients had full access even with the same credentials.

Tom’s Take

HP is getting much better with their Field Day presentations.  I felt this one was a lot better than the previous one, both from a content perspective and from the interaction level.  Live demos are always welcome, even if they don’t work 100%.  Add to that the ability to sit down and brainstorm about the future of wireless and you have a great morning.  I think HP’s direction in the wireless space is going to be interesting to watch in the coming months.  They seem to be attempting to push more and more of the functions of the APs back into the APs themselves.  This will allow for more decisions to be made at the edge of the network and keep traffic from needing to traverse all the way to the core.  I think that HP’s transition to the “fatter” AP at the edge will take some time, both from a technology deployment perspective and to ensure that they don’t alienate any of their current customers by reducing the effectiveness of their currently deployed equipment.  I’m going to be paying attention in the near future to see how these things proceed.

If you’d like to learn more about HP Wireless Networking, you can check them out at http://h17007.www1.hp.com/us/en/products/wireless/index.aspx.  You can also find them on Twitter as @HP_Networking.

Disclaimer

HP was a sponsor of Wireless Tech Field Day, and as such they were responsible for a portion of my travel expenses and hotel accommodations.  In addition, they provided lunch for the delegates, as well as a pen and notepad set and a travel cooler with integrated speakers.  At no time did they ask for nor where they promised any kind of consideration in the writing of this review.  The analysis and opinions presented here are given freely and represent my own thoughts.

HP Wireless Updates

Today, HP has launched a couple of new additions to their wireless portfolio.  I was able to get a look at them and ask some questions about their performance and capabilities.  First, a little history lesson for those not up on HP wireless networking.

Back in the day, when HP Networking was the entity formerly known as Procurve, they had their own product line for wireless, centered around their Wireless Edge Services Module.  This little blade plugged into the 54xx and 82xx switches to provide a controller-based wireless solution.  The access points used by HP weren’t called “access points” but “radio ports”, more accurately describing their function as dumb antennas that relayed the signal back to a central controller, where the traffic was then switched to the appropriate port or routed for destinations known or unknown.  It worked fairly well for what it was, and I had a couple of opportunities to deploy it for some customers.  It was 802.11 a/b/g only, so when the newer 802.11n access points started coming along, this solution couldn’t keep up with the users’ faster data access desires.

To rectify this situation, HP announced the purchase of Colubris Networks back in August 2008.  Colubris was one of the first manufacturers of 802.11n APs and had some very interesting plans to start offering a controller that allowed wired and wireless users to be integrated into one appliance for traffic selection and processing.  Alas, this product never really came out, and so the whole development team was swept up into HP after the purchase.  The existing Colubris APs and controllers became the new MSM series access points from HP, and the old Procurve Wireless Edge and Radio Port solution was put out to pasture.

Fast forward about 2.3 years, and you have today’s announcement from HP of their first dual-band a/b/g/n radio sets.  These units are designed to compete with Cisco’s 1142 AP, based on the slide deck that I was shown.  There are two new APs with internal omnidirectional antennas, the E-MSM430 and the E-MSM460.  The 460 is a 3×3:3 AP, which means that it has 3 transmit and 3 receive antennas (3×3), as well as support for 3 data streams (:3).  The 430 is 2X3:2, meaning it has 2 transmit antennas and 2 data streams.  For a point of reference, the competing Cisco 1142 AP is 2×3:2 as well.  Having more spatial streams means that you can really crank up the bandwidth.  The 430 has a max bandwidth of 300 Mbps per radio, when the 460 can top out at 450 Mbps per radio.  There is also an E-MSM 466 that has 3×3:3 antenna support, but uses a selection of external antennas as opposed to the internal omnis of the other units.

The APs use a standards-based implementation of beamforming, as well as 802.3af PoE standards.  They also offer a capability of steering clients to less-used sections of the airspace.  Many devices today offer 802.11a as well as 802.11b/g client radios.  However, many devices will show a preference for one over the other, and in many consumer cases this preference is for the 2.4 Ghz 802.11b/g spectrum, which by now is full of lots of things, like microwaves, cordless phones, Mi-Fi mobile hotspots , and so on.  It’s getting pretty crowded to try and do anything.  The 802.11a spectrum, on the other hand, appears to be very open at this point.  There are very few devices competing up there, and the amount of non-overlapping channels lends itself well to things like channel bonding to increase throughput.  HP’s technology will allow the controller to steer the 802.11a-capable clients to that spectrum and allow the 2.4 space a little breathing room.  That could be a lifesaver for certain markets where connectivity in that band range is very critical, like healthcare for instance.

For those of you have cold sweats about the last wireless announcement, have no fears here.  The new APs are designed to work with the 7xx-series controllers, so you won’t need to rent any more forklifts.  The controllers have the capability to have traffic exit at both the controller end and the AP end, so people who want to access the network printer down the hall won’t have their traffic traversing all the way back to the network core to come back down to the printer.  That aspect has me very interested, as I’m beginning to see some throughput concerns with all AP traffic terminated at the controller.  There are only so many links you can shove into an Etherchannel/LACP setup.

There is also an update to the HP Mobility Manager software.  This Single Pane of Glass (SPoG) software allows you to manage multiple controllers and APs at the same time.  You can get a pretty accurate picture of your network quickly and decide how best to implement policy changes.  This software will also integrate with Procurve Manager Plus and the HP Intelligent Management Center (formerly of H3C).  These capabilities are nice so your NOC people don’t have to keep flipping back and forth between applications to ensure the network is up and running.

Tom’s Take

I’m glad to see HP joining the dual-radio world with this new set of access points.  As pointed out by almost all of the wireless blogs I follow, the 2.4 Ghz space is far too congested now, and with almost all devices being shipped now starting to include 5 Ghz radios as well, it’s very critical that a serious wireless company get involved in both spectrums simultaneously.  This new series of APs will allow them to complete directly with Cisco, and if the specs on the 460/466 hold up those two APs should provide higher throughput for connected clients.  Coupled with the capability to shunt clients to less-congested airspace, it should make some aspects of wireless troubleshooting much easier on us poor wireless rock stars.  The Mobility Manager updates should also prove helpful to those people using the software to control multiple controllers and AP setups.

This offering shows that HP is looking to step up their game and are going to compete with Cisco and most likely Juniper once the dust settles from the Trapeze acquisition.  I’m optimistic that these new offerings will compliment HP’s wireless infrastructure and drive innovation in both the hardware and software from the competition.  It should be a win-win for everyone that deals with wireless regularly.

If you would like to read the press release on these wireless updates, you can see it HERE. If you’d like to see the speeds and feeds on these new products, check out the HP Wireless Networking landing page HERE.

Tech Field Day – HP

The final presenters for Tech Field Day 5 were from HP.  HP presented on two different architectures that at first seemed to be somewhat unrelated.  The first was their HP StoreOnce data deduplication appliances.  The second was an overview of the technologies that comprise the HP Networking converged networking solutions.  These two technologies are very intrinsic to the future of the datacenter solutions offered by HP.

After a short marketing overview about HP and their direction in the market, as well as reinforcement of their commitment to open standards (more on this later), we got our first tech presentation from Jeff DiCorpo.  He talked to us about the HP StoreOnce deduplication appliances.  These units are designed to sit inline with your storage and servers and deduplicate the data as it flies past.  The idea of inline dedupe is quite appealing to those customer that have many remote branch offices and would prefer to reduce the amount of data being sent across the wire to a central backup location.  By deduping the data in the branch before sending it along, the backup windows can be shorter and the costs associated with starving other applications with high data usage can be avoided.  I haven’t really been delving into the backup solutions focused on the datacenter, but as I heard about what HP is doing with their line of appliances, it started to make a little more sense to me.  The trend to me appears to be one where the data is being centralized again in one location, much like the old days of mainframe computing.  For those locations that don’t have the ability or the need to centralize data in a large SAN environment, the HP StoreOnce appliances can shorten backup times for that critical remote site data.  The appliances can even be used internal to your datacenter to dedupe the data before it is presented to the backup servers.  The limits of the things that can be done with deduplication seem to be endless.  My networking background tends to have me thinking about data in relatively small streams.  But as I start encountering more and more backup data that needs priority treatment, the more I think that some kind of deduplication software or hardware is needed to reduce those large data streams.  There was a lot of talk at Tech Field Data about dedupe, and the HP solution appears to be an interesting one for the datacenter.

Afterwards, Jay Mellman of HP Networking talked to us about the value proposition of HP Converged Networking.  While not a pure marketing overview, there were the typical case studies and even a “G” word printed in the bottom corner of one slide.  Once Jay was finished, I did ask a few questions about the position of HP Networking in regards to their number one competitor, Cisco.  Jay admitted that HP is doing its best to force Cisco to change the way they do business.  The Cisco quarterly results had been released while I was at TFD, and the fact that there was less revenue was not lost on HP.  I asked Jay about the historical position of HP Network (formerly Procurve) and his stance that the idea of an edge-centric design was a better model than Cisco’s core-focused guidelines.  Having worked with both sets of hardware and seen reference documentation for each vendor, I can say that there is most definitely disagreement.  Cisco tends to focus its designs around strong cores of Catalyst 6500 or Nexus 7000 switches.  The access layer tends to be simple port aggregation where few decisions are made.  This is due to the historical advantage Cisco has enjoyed with its core products.  HP has always maintained that keeping the intelligence of the network out in the edge, what Cisco would term the “access layer”, is what allows them to be very agile and keep the processing of network traffic closer to the intended target.  I think part of this edge-centric focus has been because the historic core switching offerings from HP have been somewhat spartan compared to the Cisco offering.  I think this situation was remedied with the acquisition of 3Com/H3C and their A-series chassis switches.  This gives HP a great platform to launch back into the core.  As such, I’ve seen a lot more designs from HP that are beginning to talk about core networking.  Who’s right in all this?  I can’t say.  This is one of those OSPF – IS-IS kind of arguments.  Each has their appeal and their deficiencies.

After Jay, we heard from Jeff about the tech specs of the A-series switches.  He talked about the support HP has for the open standards in the datacenter.  Casually mentioned was the support for standards such as TRILL and QCN, but not for Cisco FabricPath.  As expected, Jeff made sure to point out that FabricPath was Cisco proprietary and wasn’t supported by the A-series.  He did speak about Intelligent Resilient Framework (IRF), which is a technology used by HP to unify the control plane of a set of switches to make it appear as one unified fabric.  To me, this sounds a lot like the VSS solution that Cisco uses on their core switches.  HP is positioning this as an option to flatten the network by creating lots of trunked (Etherchanneled) connections between the devices in the datacenter.  I specifically asked if they were using this as a placeholder until TRILL is ratified as a standard.  The answer was ‘yes’.  As IRF is a technology acquired from the H3C purchase, it only runs on the A-series switches.  In addition, there are enhancements above and beyond those offered by TRILL that will ensure IRF will still be used even after TRILL is finalized and put into production.  So, with all that in mind, allow me to take my turn at Johnny Carson’s magnificent Karnac routine:

The answer is: Cisco FabricPath OR HP IRF

The question? What is a proprietary technology used by a vendor in lieu of an open standard that allows a customer to flatten their datacenter today while still retaining several key features that will allow it to be useful even after ratification of the standard?

The presentation continued to talk about the trends and technolgy in the datacenter for enabling multi-hop Fiber Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) and the ability of the HP Flexfabric modules to support many different types of connectivity in the C7000 blade chassis.  I think that this is where the Cisco/HP battle is going to be won or lost.  By racing towards a fast and cost-effective multi-hop FCoE solution, HP and Cisco are hoping to have a large install base ready for the standards to become totally finalized.  When that day comes, they will be able to work alongside the standard and enjoy the fruits of a hard-fought war.  Time will tell whether or not this approach will work or who will come out on top, if anyone.

I think HP has some interesting arguments for their datacenter products.  They’ve also been making servers for a long time and they have a very compelling solution set for customers that incorporates storage, which is something Cisco currently lacks without a partner like EMC.  What I would like to see HP focus more on in their solution presentation is telling me what they can do and what the are about.  Conversely, they should spend a little less time comparing themselves to Cisco and taking each opportunity to mention how Cisco doesn’t support standards and has no previous experience in the server market.  To be honest, I don’t hear that from Cisco or IBM when I talk to them about servers or storage or networking.  I hear what they have to offer.  HP, if you can give me all the information I need to make my decision and your product is the one that fits my needs the best, you shouldn’t have to worry about what my opinion of your competitors is.

Tech Field Day Disclosure

HP was a sponsor of Tech Field Day 5, and as such was responsible for a portion of my airfare and hotel accommodations.  In addition, HP provided their Executive Briefing Center in Cupertino, CA for the Friday presentations.  They also served a great hot breakfast and allowed us unlimited use of their self-serve Starbucks coffee, espresso and chai machine.  We returned the favor by running it out of steamed milk for use in the yummy Dirty Chai.  HP also provided the delegates with a notepad and pen.  At no time did HP ask for nor were they promised any kind of consideration in this article.  Any and all analysis and opinions are mine and mine alone.

Fast Tracks and Shiny Plaques

HP has announced a new certification program called ExpertONE (http://h10120.www1.hp.com/certification/expert_one-networking.html).  This appears to be the culmination of the acquisition of 3COM/Huawei and the rebranding of Procurve as “HP Networking”.  In this new program, they have consolidated their existing tracks and certifications to fall into the familiar 3-tiered system of associate (Advanced Integration Specialist or AIS), Professional (Advanced System Engineer or ASE) and Expert (Master Advanced Systems Engineer or Master ASE).  The current tracks include networking, wireless, security, and voice.

What is of particular interest is the “Fast Track” program.  This program allows an individual certified in a competitor’s certification system to use these certifications to achieve an equivalent HP certification level.  For instance, if you hold a valid CCNA, you can take the HP2-Z04 Building HP Procurve Campus LANs exam and achieve the HP AIS: Networking certification.  Taking the same test and submitting a valid CCIE: R&S gives you the Master ASE: Networking certification.  While I can say that I like the approach that HP has taken by allowing existing vendor certifications to count towards their certification track, I do have a couple of problems with it.

1.  It’s a major modification from the existing track. My reasoning for this?  In the previous track, you could take one test that covered the convergence aspect of Procurve switches (basically multicast routing and QoS) and you could achieve the ASE: Convergence certification.  In order to become a Master ASE: Convergence all you needed to do was submit a valid CCVP certificate. (http://h10147.www1.hp.com/training/certifications/technical/convergence.htm)  That’s what I did.  And for the next 11 days, I am still a Master ASE: Convergence.  I even have the shirt to prove it.  But as of November 1st, that track will expire and there is no current projected replacement for it.  In an effort to realign their business tracks, HP has expired all previous certifications in favor of the new ExpertONE program.  No option to recertify in a track.  In fact, it appears the ONLY way to become a Master ASE is to hold a CCIE (or perhaps JNCIE) and take this one online test.  No other major vendor has ever expired all of their certification tracks at once, to my knowledge.  When Novell moved from Netware 5 to Netware 6, if you were certified on Netware 5 you could still claim to be a CNE, but Novell would inform those that asked that you were not certified on the current OS.  I’m still a MCNE on Netware 6.  I’m an MCSE on Windows 2000.  All expired tracks, yet the certification is still valid.  But with HP?  Nope.  No ASE for you unless you have the current certification.  But that’s not the most concerning thing about this.

2.  HP seems to be trying to attract Cisco talent out of spite. It’s no real secret that HP and Cisco in the last year have gone from friendly rivals to outright war with each other.  From the Cisco “California” UCS product line to the acquisition of 3COM/Huawei, the pitched battles keep getting fought over and over.  In fact, the announcement of the ExpertONE certification track was released at the same time Cisco announced changes to the CCIE Service Provider, CCNP: Voice, and CCNP: Security tracks.  HP has done everything in its power to pick as many fights with Cisco as it can.  And this new certification track is no different in my mind.  By claiming that anyone with a valid Cisco certification can now hold an equivalent HP Networking certification, HP is telling networking professionals they value the learning that those professionals have accomplished, even if they don’t care much for the logo on the certificate.  One test could certify me in 3 or 4 different tracks for HP due to my Cisco certifications.

This appears to me to be an effort by HP to win over a large portion of the networking professional community by giving them a head start in the HP certification program.  I can say that the idea of being able to gain some nice HP certifications because of my standing with Cisco is a nice idea.  But at the same time, I wonder what is going to happen in the future.  The Fast Track program won’t last forever.  HP is already prepping new tests and tracks for the November – January timeframe.  In my mind, that says that if you want to take advantage of the Fast Track program, you’d best do it now.  It may not be long before HP decides to ‘expire’ the Fast Track option in favor of new, developed coursework.  I’m also curious how long the CCIE will be a prerequisite for the Master ASE.  While you could be very certain that you are getting the cream of the crop by requiring a CCIE as a prerequisite for any certification, given HP’s previous actions of excising any trace of Cisco they can find makes me wonder how long it will last.  Perhaps until HP can implement their own lab program similar to the CCIE or JNCIE.  But those programs take time to develop and properly implement.  Until that time, I think HP is viewing the CCIE as a necessary evil.  And, quite possibly, HP will use the numbers of CCIEs gaining Master ASEs as a marketing tool to justify how advanced their certification program is becoming.

In the end, I think that HP has got the right idea.  While the prospect of losing my Master ASE due to reorganization does chafe somewhat, I think the program realignment was necessary to make the certification program have some prestige and level the playing field.  However, I’m couching my opinion until I see exactly how long the Fast Track program lasts.  And I hope that this isn’t just another example of the networking professional community being dragged into a vendor war.