SAN JOSE, Calif. – Hewlett-Packard has released OpenFlow software for 16 of its network switches with plans to extend that support this year to all its switches. The move marks what HP claims is the broadest rollout of commercial OpenFlow capabilities to date.
OpenFlow is an emerging standard for creating software programmable computer networks. It aims to let end users cut through the complexities of managing today’s networks made up of a jungle of specialized systems and protocols that each require unique management tools.
HP has been among a core set of vendors working with researchers at Stanford University and elsewhere on the OpenFlow standard. It has been offering OpenFlow software as a research tool for at least two years and has more than 60 customers using it, including some in production environments. Now commercially supported, the software continues to be a free upgrade.
OpenFlow creates what’s called a central control plane, a single point for managing everything in a network. It operates via software applications that classify network traffic flows and take actions on how and where they are sent based on policies users define in software.
“Users want to get away from managing each individual device in the network often through command line interfaces and instead specify broad policies,” said Charles Clark, a distinguished technologist in the HP Networking group.
The current software runs on existing switching ASICs and embedded controllers in HP’s switches which typically use PowerPC cores. HP and others are in the early days of updating those ASICs and controllers to run OpenFlow jobs in more optimal ways.
Currently, users can run the switches in separate or mixed traditional and OpenFlow modes. Proponents believe the biggest benefit of OpenFlow will come when whole networks can be built using the technology to control in software network actions. Such networks could eliminate the need for a wide variety of protocols, networking tables and specialty boxes.
So far, NEC has rolled out at least two switches that support OpenFlow and IBM has announced at least one. Cisco Systems said it will support OpenFlow but is still forming its strategy of how it will do so.
“Most people are just starting to get into this,” said Saar Gillai, chief technology officer of HP Networking “NEC has a narrower portfolio than ours, and I haven’t seen commercial grade products from others,” he said.
HP is helping fund an interoperability lab at Indiana University that will perform testing of OpenFlow systems.
It’s still early days for the OpenFlow standard itself. An industry alliance promoting it has laid out a number of stepwise upgrades over the next year or more including adding support for IPv6 in the next version.
An applications programming interface for apps that would ride on top of OpenFlow has yet to be defined.