HP Networking Opinions Unleashed

At the risk of people thinking this blog has become too focused on HP, let me present one final post regarding other people’s opinions about HP. After HP Discover in Las Vegas last month, I lucked out in a drawing and was given a laptop to give away in a contest of my choosing. That led to this. For those who aren’t going to go back and read the contest post, I will just tell you what it was. I asked for honest feedback on people’s thoughts around HP Networking. Good, bad, etc. Well, the contest is over, but I wanted to share a few things.

First, the winner of the contest was none other than Paul Gear from Brisbane,Australia. There were quite a few stellar entries. In the end, I though Paul’s was the most in depth that covered multiple areas of HP Networking. I am going to post his entire response below.

“Hi Matthew,

Interesting contest you’ve got going.  I’m glad to hear that HP have actually taken the time to ask the community about this issue.

First, a bit about my background: i consider myself primarily a server guy, having worked a lot with HP-UX and Solaris in the past, and working primarily with Linux now, but i have been using ProCurve networking gear for the last 8 years or so, and i must say that i’m a bit of a fanboy.  I’ve just completed my 3rd core switch upgrade using HP networking: the first was a pair of 5300s (in my previous job), next was a pair of 5400s, and i’ve just now moved those 5400s into the distribution layer and made an IRF stack of A5500-EIs my core.  I’ve progressed from using only the web interface to using the CLI almost exclusively to manage them.  Next Friday i’m going for my first networking certification: HP AIS.  I hope to do more networking certifications in the future and move into roles that are more network-centric.

Here are my suggestions for HP about the technical story that i’ve been hearing:

1. Give us a concrete roadmap. When the HP folks came on Packet Pushers last year, they basically said that all products are going to be maintained going forward.  Of course, this is not scalable in the long term, so get us ready for the time when some of those products will be disappearing.  Give us notice.  Nominate successor products.  Explain how the integration between the A & E series at the software level is going to work.

2. Don’t obsolete products in favour of less-capable products. When the ProCurve 2810-24 replaced the 2824, it was a step backwards in terms of some functionality (see the software features matrix for full details: some of the obsoleted features are not useless old protocols – specifically IP routing).  When a successor product is nominated, make sure it is a true, drop-in replacement.

3. Give us a consistent story. It used to be that -zl switches (5400 and 8200) were enterprise-capable (whatever that means).  After the 3Com acquisition, they are now SMB (whatever that means) if the training materials are to be believed.  The features didn’t go backward overnight.  Admittedly the L3/L4 features of the ProCurve platform could not match the functionality of high-end 3Com or Cisco gear, but the ProCurve OS has been very reliable and it deserves ongoing investment.  Lately it seems like E-series is being treated like a poor cousin.

4. Integrate the ProVision and Comware products at the CLI level. There really is no excuse for not providing maximum backwards compatibility with both command sets.  They largely do not overlap (in fact, i haven’t found anything that overlaps in my A-series travels so far) so this should be achievable from a UI perspective.  VLAN assignment on A-series is particularly annoying; similarly, LACP on A-series is much more complex to set up than it should be, for no good reason.  (I’m sure i’ll find more similar issues – i plan to write a blog post about moving from E-series to A-series soon.)

5. Get your sucky web site fixed. (I know it’s not just an HP networking issue, but it has to be said anyway.)
* look & feel differences in different sections
* themes with black backgrounds – they might be arty and cool, but ergonomically-speaking they are painful
* search results are utterly useless – i get faster and more accurate results by using Google with site:hp.com than i do through HP’s own search engine.  Many of the results that come out of it are 100% irrelevant and do not even contain the keywords for which i searched.
* I often end up with hits for HP Israel or HP UK instead of the main HP site if i come through Google.  There should be a simple easy way to go to the global version of the same page from every page.  Or better yet, make sure Google is seeded with the best site info; many reseller sites come up before the main HP site – i assume this is because robots.txt is blocking Google from the main site, but it is not consistently applied.

6. Provide better support – i almost never call or email support because dealing with them is so difficult.  The language barrier is a big one for me in Australia – the Asia-based tech support personnel seem to have much more limited English skills than i expect.  I’d much rather deal with the US or UK and put up with the time delay than put up with the language issues.

7. Give us better channels to the right people:
* Can certified professionals skip the Level 1 support and go straight to L2?  Make it feasible for us to send problems to L2 support without going crazy repeating our problem description 5 times.
* Provide appropriate access into the right sections for things like: reporting errors in documentation, requesting changes/enhancements to documentation, reporting problems/errors in course materials.
* Is there a peer support forum exclusively for certified professionals?  (I don’t mean the existing enterprise business community – i discovered this a few weeks ago and have been actively checking it.)  This would be a really useful thing if skilled people actually patrolled it.  Pay one or two full-time staff members to help out in the forums on a site like this and it would become a huge value-add, and significantly decrease load on your support team.
* Regular technical mailouts to certified professionals with information about the latest bugs, firmware releases, features, etc. would be good.  Not too frequent, though – perhaps once a month.  And make it possible to give feedback on them, to the people who can do something about it, quickly and easily (whether by reply email or web form).

8. Management software is a big issue at present. ProCurve Manager Plus is fairly under-featured and overpriced for small-to-medium-sized networks, and from the reviews i’ve read, i’m guessing the 3Com product will be over-featured and even more overpriced.  Due to reliability issues with the PCM Plus policy engine, i’ve actually moved my network management almost exclusively to CLI and Free Software (RANCID for config history/deployment and Observium for monitoring).  I would like to see HP put some support for getting their products working really well with free network monitoring tools, and/or significantly improving the value proposition of ProCurve Manager Plus (preferably both!).  Here’s an idea: integrate a fully-functional sFlow & Netflow collector into PCM Plus, and structure the pricing so that it scales in more gentle increments.

9. Ignore the value market. Or at least, don’t try to sell them into the same clients or through the channels as the A & E series.  The products come out half-baked and annoying to deal with due to their inability to be managed with centralised tools.  I have actually offered to set up E-series switches for my main client free of charge if he promises not to buy any more V-series.  See some of my rants here:

* http://libertysys.com.au/node/61
* http://libertysys.com.au/node/109 (a printer, but you get the idea)

Regards,
Paul

You can follow him on Twitter where he is known as @PaulGear1. You can also read his blog here.

In addition to Paul’s response, I wanted to post some portions of other people’s comments. Please note that I don’t necessarily agree with everything, and some comments might actually be incorrect. I’m not changing any of their words except removing/rewording some coarse language. All comments are in italics. I added a few words after each comment. I’m not changing any of their words except removing/rewording some coarse language. This is a family site after all. 🙂

“My perception of HP networking is not a good one.  We had a sales guy come into our Manhattan office and try to talk us out of $3M in Nexus a few months back, and I was embarrassed FOR HP.  He was there with our account manager, and I felt bad for her.

The guy spent a couple of hours rolling through slides with part numbers and pictures of the gear.  His sole focus was on price.  He gave us zero information on any competitive advantage that HP might have over other vendors, other than price.  So we had to assume they didn’t have one.  The guy could not answer basic feature / benefit questions.  It was almost as if he was selling us a used car, and we had bad credit.  He was even so pushy, he wanted to bring the gear in and install it that week.  When he found out we were using IBM IDS, he wanted to come drop off a Tipping Point appliance, but again he just talked about price.  Not features.

All I know about HP networking, thanks to this presentation, is that it’s cheaper than Cisco, and the TCO is lower.  That’s it.  It comes across as desperate to me.  As did the acquisition of 3COM after the Cisco blowup.”

The cost argument is a common thread I hear regarding HP’s sales process from fellow engineers.

“Research and documentation – There is very minimal documentation on the web for procurve configurations, (and almost none from HP).  This is mainly because of the much larger customer base and certification tests of a certain large competitor, that no one bothers to post blogs about how to do things with a procurve.  Searching on how to do something with an HP easily costs me 3-4 times longer than the teal competitor.  HP documentation tends to be short, only mentioning each topic briefly, only shows a single way to do a task even if there are several, sometimes misses preliminary steps, and has little to no depth of more advanced features.  The search on HP is also terrible, poor results, many pages it brings up have moved, and is slow.”

The HP website is being addressed. While in Vegas for HP Discover, we did have someone from the web development team come and talk to us bloggers who were there. They recognize it is a problem and are working on making it better.

“I recently got in a presentation by HP people regarding their virtual connect products in C7000 blade enclosures. While the virtual connect product is great, the presentation was fouled up just because of latent secrecy on the inner workings. HP should be open on which open standards they implement and why. Off course, I’m not saying they should be open on the proprietary stuff, but at least say what is and what isn’t proprietary. I had the impression they knew about some limitations but weren’t at liberty to tell.”

I’ve listened to enough HP presentations this year to know that their common theme is that they use open standards and will interoperate with as many other vendors as possible. However, they also have some proprietary things going on just like most of the other vendors. What I do notice is that they aren’t talking about their platform architectures like other vendors do. I can produce slide deck after slide deck on Cisco hardware architecture. Most of those slide decks come from sessions given at Cisco Live. I didn’t see any sessions like that at HP Discover.

“Work on publications.  Get with a Publisher to publish books on Procurve Networking.  Nothing like a “Dummies” book, but for those of us that already know networking, I would recommend something like “A Field Guide to Procurve Networking” or something.  Common tasks that you can do with a Procurve.  Maybe a central “Technology” section of the website to discuss MPLS, BGP, IPSec, etc, rather than just per models.”

I hear this all the time. I’ve even said it a time or two. You CANNOT compete with companies like Cisco and Juniper if your documentation sucks.

“Cost – So far, that is the only Pro I can think of.  At Interop, no one could tell me what the “features” really were.  When I asked to compare to a Juniper or Arista, I was just told “cost”.  Donatelli said at HP Discover that people would choose the Procurves on features alone….. yet, whether it was lack of marketing or documentation, I have yet to learn what these “features” really are.”

Although cost was mentioned above, I wanted to include this comment, because it makes a good point.

“I was absolutely “BLOWN AWAY” by the IMC product.  The single interface, the scalability of the product, and the different “pluggable” modules, you basically only purchase what you need.  I am even working on budgeting for the full Enterprise IMC for 2012.  Network Traffic Analysis, User Access Control, NAC, among others, are phenomenal.  Configuration is all graphical based (not text based), and can even build a graphical cabinet-based view ‘on-the-fly’.  The only thing I have not yet tried yet, are the demos, which I will be doing so, soon.”

Agreed. IMC almost seems too good to be true. I haven’t actually crunched the numbers from a cost perspective, so I can’t say whether it costs as much as a house, but it appears to do everything but monitor your kitchen sink. My guess is “sink monitoring” will be in the next release. 🙂

“The greatest thing about the E-Series (ProCurve) is the elegance with which HP turned IOS on its side and made everything VLAN-centric instead of the traditional port-centric approach that other vendors fixated upon. This allowed (allows) for simple, tidy switch configurations that meet all the end users’ needs without filling up pages of needlessly repetitive configuration information.”

Interesting way to put it. I never really thought about that, but good point.

“I love the fact that with HP a vast majority of their products don’t require an annual support contract in order to receive firmware updates, phone support and next day hardware replacement.  I have been disapointed to find that their
support model has become more muddled in recent years with the acquisition of other companies.  They haven’t simply extended the Procurve model to the new product lines.”

HP has always been praised for their hardware warranties/support. I would rather punch myself in the face repeatedly than have to deal with Cisco Smartnet as an end user.

“They should focus less on convincing people that they are better than Cisco, Juniper, and whoever else and spend time making good on broken commitments to both client and those of us who deployed their products.  As part of that HP needs to quit running smear campaigns through third parties (analysts) and then championing them as 100% legit test of their products vs. others in the market.  When they can start playing in the market as a legitimate vendor and not a marketing machine it will make a huge difference in the perception of people like me.

Until then they are just an annoyance when I run across them and something to be re-mediated out of a network as soon as a budget allows.”

Focus on what it is that you do well as a company and market that. Tell me what you do well instead of what your competition does poorly.

“HP needs to focus on gaining mindshare, more than marketshare. Cisco’s big strength for many years has been their certification program. When advertising job roles, it is enough for us to specify CCNA-, CCNP- or CCIE-level. It’s not even about the certificate, it’s just a shorthand way of saying “We want someone at this experience level.” Even when not working with Cisco products, it’s a way of establishing how much
experience a candidate has. Unfortunately this has led to people only focusing on Cisco products, which is actually a bit detrimental to the overall market, as people get stuck on Cisco, and don’t properly consider alternatives. I’ve worked with too many people who have drunk the Kool-Aid, and believe if it’s not Cisco, it’s not worth it.

HP has a great story to tell around the value of their products, but it needs to get technical end-users onboard. I think they are
well-placed, offering better price/performance than Cisco, but are a long way from the bottom of the barrel unmanaged, unreliable gear category. No-one’s going to question the HP name either, the way they might if I recommend buying <insert random company you’ve never heard of here> equipment. Cisco is not just expensive for up front costs, but their ongoing maintenance too. HP’s limited lifetime warranties, and free downloads of software updates is a real differentiator here –
ensure that message gets out there, so people take into account the whole lifecycle cost.

There’s different ways of establishing mindshare, but here’s a few quick ideas:

* Offer free emulators to anyone who wants them. If you absolutely must, charge a nominal fee. But don’t mess it up like both Cisco and Juniper have recently. Offer emulators that run on standard OSes, and are not significantly crippled.
* Documentation: Cisco offers great documentation not just for their products, but about technologies and features. Even if I’m not implementing OSPF on Cisco kit, I know I can go their website to get some great information on how OSPF works, and should be designed. HP should aim for this sort of leadership, where my first thought for network design is: Check the HP reference designs

* Keep access to all documentation freely available. Don’t force
registration like several other vendors.
* Push the education program hard. Don’t view it as a profit/loss centre, but as an investment in the future. Ensure existing CCNA/CCNP/CCIEs have an easy transition, at a moderate cost. Ensure certifications receive tangible benefits. (Accelerated path for logging support tickets, etc).

HP should also take a hard look at their product lineup. Right now, they’re taking the “we’ll keep everything for sale, and see what customers want” approach. The problem for me is that I don’t like the uncertainty. I’m not sure which models other customers are buying, so I’m not sure if I’m going to be picking the best long term path. Yes, I know HP is going to support all existing stuff for a while, but I need more of an idea over the next 5-10 years. I don’t want to buy kit now, then find that in 2-3 years time, there’s no more development for that, and I need to make significant changes. I’d rather that I had some certainty now. I also get overwhelmed when I look at their website, trying to work out which gear is appropriate – there’s too many options.

Overall I’m pleased that HP has decided to seriously attack the
networking market, shaking things up. Too much complacency and price-gouging going on otherwise. With Cisco pushing Nexus right now, HP has a great opportunity.”

That was my second favorite response from the contest. So much insight in that response that there is no need to comment on it.

The bottom line is that people have a variety of opinions on HP Networking, but still share some common themes. Maybe you agree with some of them and maybe you don’t. Hopefully this information was somewhat beneficial to you. HP isn’t going away anytime soon and feedback like this will only help them get better. Customers like you and I benefit from that in the long run.

 

Posted in contest, hp, vendors | Tagged , | 10 Comments

Feeling Lucky?

I have been fortunate to receive a free laptop from HP due to my involvement with them at the HP Discover conference that took place out in Las Vegas in early June of 2011. This laptop is mine to give away to a reader of my blog.

 

You can see the actual laptop specs here: http://www.shopping.hp.com/webapp/product/XZ211UA%2523ABA

I figured I would make this interesting. All you have to do to be eligible to win this is the following:

Give me your perception of HP networking(pros and cons) and try to think of any ways that they can improve their message when it comes to connecting with the technical side of the community. There’s enough communication directed at IT managers and CxO types. I am interested in what the technical side of the house thinks. Best answer gets the laptop. Oh, and I don’t care whether your answer involves wireless, security, traditional data center route/switch, etc. As long as it can be deemed “networking” specific, I will take it.

Send your responses to contest@insearchoftech.com. I’ll post your answer with proper attribution as well as snippets of any other responses that are interesting. I can also guarantee you that HP will be interested in what you have to say in regards to their networking solutions.

One other small request. Let me know how you would use the laptop to improve your business or personal life, or the best feature about it, or what makes it attractive to an enterprise or small business. That should be relatively simple for most people to answer.

This is a win/win for anyone who participates. First, you might get a brand new laptop that costs you nothing. Second, you get a chance to tell a vendor how to do a better job and level some constructive criticism their way. That’s it. No strings attached whatsoever. This is open to anyone WORLDWIDE. The only ones not eligible would be HP employees and any of my fellow bloggers who were with me at HP Discover. Other than that, I don’t care who you work for or where you live as long as you can give a decent response regarding HP Networking.

While some might see this as a blatant commercial for HP, it isn’t. I can assure you I have not sold out my independence, and the winner is obligated to do absolutely nothing other than enjoy the free laptop. All you have to do is give your opinion. The odds are a lot better than most of the “Free iPad drawing” scams that are out there.

Contest ends on July 1st,2011 at 11:59PM CST(UTC/GMT -5). Winner will be chosen and notified as soon as possible. I don’t like waiting for things either!

Posted in contest, hp, vendors | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Proprietary? So what.

There was a time not too long ago when you could look out on the networking hardware landscape and it would be covered in teal colored devices from Cisco. There were other companies out there, but the bulk of what I saw out there was Cisco.

These days it is a different story. Whether it is due to merchant silicon, the rise of nerds worldwide, or a bunch of ex-Cisco employees getting some venture capital funding, I don’t know. The reality of the networking market today is that there are plenty of competitors out there with products superior to some of Cisco’s, or about the same but at a much lower price. Another thing influencing people’s decisions is that Cisco has a fair amount of technology that can be considered proprietary. It doesn’t always stick around(ie TDP, ISL), but a lot of it can still be found running on Cisco dominated networks(ie LWAPP, PAgP, EIGRP, HSRP). Competitors love to mention this and beat Cisco up in marketing slides or ad campaigns. They’ll demonize them for using proprietary technology and often gloss over the fact that Cisco is the REASON some of those standards they love exist today.

I’m not looking to go into exhaustive detail around the proprietary technology that companies like Cisco(Yes, other tech companies make proprietary things too.) create. Rather, I simply want to make the case that just because something is proprietary, it doesn’t make it bad. As an architect, engineer, designer, etc, you just need to be aware of how that proprietary technology/protocol works in the overall scheme of things.

In the interest of fairness, let me give you two differing points of view:

Read this: http://www.network-janitor.net/2011/02/proprietary-cometh-before-the-standard/

and then read this: http://etherealmind.com/when-proprietary-kill-standards/

Now, i’ll give you the most common issue/argument I come across: EIGRP vs OSPF

The arguments/reasons around using one or the other of these protocols consist of some of the following:

1. You only have Cisco switches and routers in your network, therefore EIGRP is okay to use.
2. Cisco sucks.
3. Other vendors suck.
4. EIGRP is easy.
5. OSPF provides a better view of the network from each router’s standpoint.
6. EIGRP converges quicker.
7. Only morons run EIGRP.
8. Multi-area OSPF is too hard.
9. EIGRP can summarize at each interface.
10. OSPF has a variety of different stub and stub-like areas.
11. EIGRP has a stub feature.
12. Most firewalls don’t speak EIGRP, and an additional argument to this is “Only morons would run dynamic routing protocols on firewalls. They aren’t routers. They’re firewalls.”.
13. I have multiple hardware vendors on my network, so I use OSPF.
14. EIGRP can do unequal cost load balancing. OSPF cannot.
15. EIGRP has the “Stuck in active” problem.
16. EIGRP is a “hybrid” protocol and took the best of distance vector and link state. (This is WRONG. See here: http://blog.ioshints.info/2010/08/eigrp-myths-debunked.html)

Perhaps you know of others. I don’t actually take a side in this particular argument. I happen to like both protocols. Maybe people think I am a Cisco fanboy if I state that I like EIGRP. I can assure you that isn’t the case. Whether I would use EIGRP or OSPF really comes down to “it depends”. Let us consider a few example networks below. Assume all equipment is Cisco and that BGP is being used on the WAN and Internet side.

Here’s a fictional enterprise data center that connects to the Internet. There are servers and storage on the access layer, and remote sites over redundant WAN carriers. This is probably a fairly common setup.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Would I use EIGRP here? Absolutely not. There are way too many moving parts here and potential to talk to devices other than Cisco. For the anti-3 layer switching(Core, Distribution,Access) people out there, I could have drawn a collapsed core and my answer would still be no to using EIGRP here. Needs within the data center are such that plenty of vendors other than Cisco will be in play. Guess what those vendors won’t be able to speak? 🙂

Here we have a remote office connected to the enterprise data center:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Would I use EIGRP here? Possibly. If I knew my routers and switches were going to stay Cisco for a few years, I just might. It’s only 4 devices as I don’t usually run layer 3 down to the access layer due to cost savings, and the fact that in small environments like this, I don’t see the benefit from a technology perspective. With minimal planning, I can migrate to OSPF in minutes with only 4 devices and experience far less than a minute of down time, if any.

When I started my current job, I came into a network that had EIGRP running in the corporate data center. All over the data center. With nothing but Cisco switches and routers, it wasn’t a big shock, or even that big of a deal as far as I was concerned. Prior to my company deciding to outsource IT operations to another company, I was talking to several vendors about getting some aggregation switches and a router to replace some Cisco 3750 switch stacks. I needed more fiber interface capabilities(1Gbps and 10Gbps) as well as copper 1Gig interfaces. The 3750’s weren’t getting it done and I also didn’t want to replace them with another stacking solution. I am not a fan of stackable switches in the data center. I’ll use them all day long in wiring closets feeding phones and workstations, but don’t really like them in the data center. That’s for another discussion though.

Based on my requirements, I needed something matching the Cisco 4900M switch and the ASR 1001 router. Oh, and I needed 3Gbps of throughput(with services) on the router for Metro Ethernet connectivity. Going into this project, I knew that if I chose anyone other than Cisco, I would be looking at implementing OSPF. At least in part, but I was planning on migrating ALL devices off of EIGRP given the chance to do so. While some people might be thinking that was going to be a monumental task, I wasn’t that worried about it. The great thing about EIGRP is that I can summarize at any interface. As long as my IP subnets are zoned properly, this isn’t a problem. It will actually help me migrate everything over in an orderly fashion.

Let’s end the EIGRP vs OSPF discussion here, because this post isn’t supposed to be about EIGRP. It is just one example of proprietary technology. I guess the main concept I am trying to convey here is that I wasn’t too concerned with running EIGRP in my network because I understood enough about it to know how to get rid of it in the least painful way. Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT an expert in any way, shape, or form. However, I have enough of an EIGRP and OSPF background to feel comfortable with both protocols for a project like this. I also have additional networking resources that I can leverage for clarification. There’s co-workers, consultants, Cisco resources in the form of people, documents, and books. I could even use Twitter, as one author of an EIGRP book(@ioshints) happens to hang around there on a regular basis there. Not to mention all the other network rock stars(Sorry Tom. I felt like using that term.) that I follow as well.

When it comes to proprietary, I like to consider the following:

1. Do you know enough to consider the pros and cons of using that particular proprietary technology/protocol?
2. Is there any sort of exhaustive documentation from the vendor regarding that particular proprietary technology/protocol or do they just want you to “trust” them as to how the magic works?
3. Can you see past the silly arguments from competing vendors? For example, is using HSRP between a pair of switches REALLY going to be that much different than using VRRP? As for migration, how fast can you switch between the two?
4. Is that proprietary technology/protocol REALLY going to give you a capability that doesn’t exist in a standard?
5. Does that proprietary technology/protocol ever have to talk to a different vendor’s hardware? Consider something like wireless access points talking to a wireless controller. Would you EVER design a wireless network in which you needed lightweight/hybrid access points from multiple vendors to be joined to a common controller?

Closing Thoughts

Don’t be so quick to dismiss proprietary technology. Standards take some time to ratify, and that’s for a good reason. It’s not JUST a bunch of vendors protecting their own interests while crafting the standard. When there is no standard for something, companies can fill their customer’s needs with proprietary technology or protocols until a standard emerges. Even after it does, there may be some enhancements that weren’t ratified as part of the standard. Or, maybe the company just wanted to keep a competitive edge over the competition. Maybe they really do want to lock you in to their hardware or software. Lest you think that was a jab at Cisco, it wasn’t. There’s not a company out there that doesn’t want you using as much of their gear as possible. Well, not one that I have come across anyway.

Proprietary can be good or bad. It really does depend on the situation, and each one is different. Every company out there that I know of who has some cool technology is using proprietary means to a certain extent, no matter what the marketing slides say. Perhaps there is an exception to that rule. I prefer to remain neutral in these battles. I want to use what gets the job done. If I have done my homework, then I won’t implement something unless I have a reasonable grasp of the technology and understand the implications of using said technology. If you don’t do your homework and get bit, there’s an army of consultants and vendors standing by to fix that problem. For a fee of course. 🙂

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Clouds, Convergence, and Management. Oh My!

My kids are big fans of the Wizard of Oz. Me? Not so much. I’m more partial to Weird Al Yankovic than Judy Garland, but that’s not really important. Do you remember, in the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow were walking arm in arm down the yellow brick road chanting: “Lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!“? Well, if HP Discover were the Wizard of Oz, it would be a bunch of marketing people walking down the road chanting “Clouds, convergence, and management. Oh my!”

I’ve just finished a long week at HP Discover in Las Vegas,NV.  As I am a network-centric person, I sat through as many network sessions as possible. Some of the presenters like Jeff Kabel, Les Stuart, Andres Chavez, and Dave Donatelli, I have heard before at either Tech Field Day events or Interop. For others, like Miguel Minicz, Mike Banic, Chris Young, Corey Dow, Jose Cornejo, Roger Sands, Craig Hinkley, and Rob Haviland, this was my first time listening to presentations from them.

What Message Am I Hearing From HP?

1. Clouds – If you thought the word fabric gets thrown around a lot, it doesn’t have anything on cloud. I’m hearing it so much here, that it doesn’t even bother me anymore. In fact, I have used it in several conversations. It’s not that I am totally sold on the idea of cloud for everyone, because I am not. It’s just that I have been beaten into submission by the marketers across the IT industry over the past year or so. I’m tired of taking the Larry Ellison approach and being combative over that word.

Perhaps I should make a distinction between my loathing of the overuse of the word cloud and the actual value of cloud.  Having the ability to create resources dynamically/on-demand within your network, over the Internet, or being able to expand rapidly beyond your current capacity into a service provider’s environment/Internet is a valid need. Not for everyone though. Just like the hyping of various vendor’s fabric solutions, not every data center or enterprise network has a need for it.

Cloud is important. HP was pitching public, private, and hybrid cloud. They can help provide all 3. I am shooting for a general thematic overview in this post, so there’s no need to go into detail about each particular cloud type. Suffice to say that some clouds will be on your internal network, some will be on the Internet, and others will be a mix between the 2.

I watched a demo(Yes. It was canned.) of HP’s CloudSystem( http://www8.hp.com/us/en/solutions/solutions-detail.html?compURI=tcm:245-300983&pageTitle=cloud-computing#).  You can basically drag and drop the various pieces you need into a template and then deploy it. You choose the virtualization piece, operating system, and certain applications you want to run on the system. I snapped a photo of what the interface looks like:

The people talking about this product make it sound like provisioning and deployment is a couple of clicks on the mouse and then you are done. What the demo doesn’t give you is a sense of how long this process takes in terms of spin up. You would also have to do a fair amount of planning on the front end before rolling it out. Who would roll out SAP or Oracle without doing some significant planning first? Not a lot of people. Or, maybe I am not understanding this right. The impression I got from the demo was that this product was a piece of cake to use. Of course, I should also point out that there were sessions around CloudSystem and I didn’t attend them since I was busy attending regular network sessions. Perhaps in those sessions they talked about proper planning and the actual time it takes to deploy the various pieces. I realize that in canned demos, you want to skip over the wait period as we all don’t want to sit around and watch a progress bar for 15 minutes. Don’t get me wrong though. I LIKE the concept.

HP CloudSystem Video

You can also get a PDF outlining HP’s CloudSystem here: http://h20195.www2.hp.com/V2/GetPDF.aspx/4AA3-2700ENW.pdf

 

2. Convergence – Every SINGLE session I sat through, except for 1 or 2, has mentioned convergence. It would also typically include a slide like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a HUGE amount of emphasis being placed on converged infrastructure. Storage, servers, network, power, and network management should all be converged into something, but I am not entirely sure what. The easy answer would be to say HP systems. However, in a few sessions, it was pointed out that HP wants standards based systems throughout the whole “convergence” animal so that you don’t just have to use HP systems. They’ll work with anyone as long as they are using standards based protocols and methods as well. I still have plenty of notes to review, so maybe the convergence angle will make more sense after reviewing my notes. If the answer is FlexFabric, FlexBranch, and FlexCampus, then that’s just fancy marketing for “use the entire HP stack”.

 

3. ManagementIMC(Intelligent Management Center) was mentioned in almost every single session I sat through, and I sat in well over a dozen. The mention would usually come at the end, but sometimes it was mentioned in the early part of the session. I’ve seen several IMC demos. I am aware of what this product can do, and if it lives up to all of its promises, it should do very well. I’ve said for the last few years that network management tools can be broken into 3 main groups.

  1. Real-time monitoring tools that give me up/down status and alert me when something like a router or firewall goes down. – On a basic level, think What’s Up Gold, WS Watch, Solarwinds Orion, etc.
  2. Flow analysis tools. – These are programs produced by NetQoS, Compuware, Plixer, WildPackets,etc. These tools take in Netflow, sFlow, IPFix, and other flow data and give you a historical analysis of what occurred in the past or near present in terms of what kinds of traffic was passing over a given link or circuit.
    1. Configuration management tools. – These tools track device configurations and can deploy configuration changes to hundreds or thousands of devices. They also can enforce policies on devices so that if something like Telnet is prohibited on network infrastructure, it won’t allow someone to make a permanent change to a device config and will alert you to the attempted change.

      IMC is the first product I have seen that appears to merge all three functions into one usable tool. From a network management perspective, it can do almost anything you can think of. As development of the product progresses, more and more functionality is being enabled. HP is touting this product as its single pane of glass(I heard that phrase in almost every session!) when it comes to managing your network.

      For now it is mostly network-centric, but there are hooks into things like VMware  vCenter and Virtual Connect. As HP is touting this product as a replacement for dozens of management products out there, it needs to work and work well. In my opinion, HP’s IMC is a product that can easily give them a foot in the door with companies who are considering HP for network gear. There’s just nothing else like it out there. You can literally get lost in all of the features it has. Thousands of types of network hardware can be managed. In HP’s words, they “manage Cisco better than Cisco”. Routers, switches, firewalls, wireless(Only HP’s solution from a lightweight AP perspective. Autonomous AP’s can be managed to a certain extent.), etc. It can also function as a RADIUS server, syslog server, NAC solution, and many more things.

      As I told some people from HP, if this thing doesn’t work, you’ll have a big problem as you have touted this platform to be a game changer. Network companies traditionally have very poor network management software. IMC needs to be different and by all accounts so far, it is. You can grab a trial version of it here: http://h17007.www1.hp.com/us/en/products/network-management/IMC_ES_Platform/index.aspx

       

      Final Thoughts

      HP Networking is on message. – By that I mean I saw consistency across every session I attended. Sure, some of the slides were the same, but what I am really driving at here is that all of the speakers preached the same message. This is a pretty important thing if you want people in the industry to take you seriously.

      It was a long, busy week at the HP Discover conference, but I REALLY learned a ton about HP’s networking solution once I was able to get beyond the marketing slides and talk to some of the architects/engineers that were there at the conference. Time permitting, I am going to try and go more in depth once I review all of my session notes. Regardless of what you think about the HP solutions (Yes, there are issues.), you will see more of them in the coming years.

      My personal guess is that within 1-2 years, we should see only HP branded hardware and more complete documentation/design guides. Questions were raised in a few sessions about these things and they are being addressed. More than branding, I would say the availability of good architecture and design documentation is probably the most important. The main complaint I hear from my peers is that documentation is sparse.

      For anyone out there who has some legitimate concerns/criticisms about HP and their networking vision, now is the time to raise them. They are listening and give the impression that they are in this for the long haul. If I could give one suggestion to HP, it would be to add more networking sessions for the next HP Discover conference. They need to be specific to your product set and cover things like implementation and design. I realize the 3Com acquisition is still relatively new, but for all the sessions I attended, I didn’t really learn a ton about specific products. Some of us engineers like to look under the hood and see what makes your products work. Luckily, I was able to talk to some pretty sharp technical people and discuss HP’s solutions versus some of your competition. I’m not asking you to duplicate Cisco Live, as I realize HP does far more from a product standpoint, but as more networking geeks show up to HP Discover, they won’t be satisfied with marketing slides.

      Disclaimer: You can see my standard disclaimer under the About page. HP provided my transportation, food, lodging, and conference fees for HP Discover. There is no obligation on my part to do anything. About the only thing I will guarantee is that I will pop off plenty of tweets during the event. Sometimes I go a little overboard:

      Posted in hp, vendors | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

      Decisions, decisions.

      I have come to an important crossroads in my career. A decision has been thrust upon me, and not by my choosing. Recently, my company entered into a long term agreement with HP to outsource application development and infrastructure operations to them. As a result of this, many of my colleagues will become HP employees. For now, they will work doing the exact same thing, but as a full fledged HP employee. Down the road, who is to say.

      There are plenty of opportunities within HP to move to another client, or work within one of the many divisions focused on selling hardware and software. I have been given an opportunity to move over to HP as well. I would become a full time HP employee and support my existing company in almost the exact same role. I know that there would be changes after a year or so, but in the short term, the only thing that would change would be the name of the company on my paycheck.

      That leads me into the dilemma I face. Well, I suppose dilemma might not be the best word to use. I have to choose whether or not I want to work for a vendor. If the company I was being “traded” to didn’t sell hardware or software, it wouldn’t be a big deal. However, I like being independent when it comes to the technology choices I get to make. Working for a vendor means that I am locked in to their solutions. That’s not to say that I think HP makes bad products. Like Cisco, they have some great products, but they also have some products that I am not too crazy about. I’ve always enjoyed having options.

      The other side of the argument is that I can get exposed to all sorts of things by going to work for HP. I have quite a few acquaintances in the partner space and although they get better access to vendor product architecture and design, I don’t think it is too much more than what I can get as an end user. Working for a vendor, I can learn about all sorts of things that the general public will never see. The kinds of things that “we can’t really talk about that” covers when uttered by a vendor during one of their presentations. Imagine being able to go beyond the NDA! These are things I would never see on the partner side, and definitely not on the end user side either.

      In all of this “work for a vendor” or “don’t work for a vendor” talk, the other issue comes up. That issue being, do I really want to continue to be an end user or do I want to dive in to the world of consulting? A few jobs ago, I worked for a reseller. I imagined when I took the job that I would be doing a bunch of cool networking jobs at a billion different companies. I ended up in the SMB space and did more “break/fix” type work. It wasn’t a particularly hard job but it was a company filled with good people. It just wasn’t what I wanted, so I jumped at an opportunity to work for a very large hospital ownership company and never looked back.

      Here I am several years later and I am pondering jumping back into consulting, but this time I am interested in enterprise level consulting. The SMB market was too much of a financial battleground for me. People wanted their network to run like a Corvette, but only wanted to fund a Chevette. Although I know that money is tight in the enterprise space as well, I think they tend to be a bit more realistic when it comes to total cost.

      In light of that, I have come up with a short list of Pro’s and Con’s of corporate IT versus consulting:

      Corporate IT Pro’s

      1. You work on the same network day in and day out. – You know where every 1 and 0 will route to.

      2. Stable work hours. Stable maintenance windows.

      3. Wider scope of duties. – With the exception of very large corporations, you get to touch all aspects of networking(routing, switching, wireless, WAN optimization and circuits, load balancing, VPN’s, firewalls, IPS, SAN’s, network management, etc). In some cases, this won’t be 100% true.

      4. If your network is a decent size, every vendor out there wants to talk to you. – More often than not, they come to you without any prodding on your part.

       

      Corporate IT Con’s

      1. Same network means same hardware/software for years. – Upgrades are not as common as in consulting which means you may be limping along on old hardware while all your consulting buddies are playing with the cutting edge gear.

      2. Fighting with the business side for each dollar spent. – IT is a black hole when it comes to money. If your finance department is smart, they make you justify every expense to make sure it is really needed. You just wish they did the same for the group that blows all the company money on ugly sculptures and advertising for bring your pet to work day or whatever crazy idea someone came up with. You know. Stuff that doesn’t make the company any money.

      3. Dealing with low staffing issues. – IT people are expensive. The fewer of you the better in the eyes of the people who are in charge of cost cutting. Sometimes people think buying fancy management systems means that less people are needed. While that might be the case in a few situations, most of the time it just eases the strain on an already overworked IT department.

      4. Office politics. – Since you work with these people day in and day out for a couple of years or more, you have to deal with their weirdness. Face it. IT people are strange. Whether it is the plethora of Star Trek references, bad hygiene, or general disdain for authority, we all have idiosyncratic qualities that you have to deal with. That’s on top of the hidden agendas and personality clashes you have to deal with.

      5. Dead weight can hide out easier in corporations. – When there are larger numbers of the IT persuasion around, it is easier for the “Wallys” to hang out and just collect a paycheck. You probably know of one or two if your corporate environment has a dozen or so IT people on staff. Maybe you are “Wally”. 🙂

       

      Consulting Pro’s

      1. Different networks with different problems to solve. – There’s something to be said for variety. It keeps things interesting. If you like traveling, some of the larger consulting companies out there will send you out of town on a regular basis. Once you get status with airlines, hotel chains, and rental car companies, you can travel like George Clooney.

      2. Always integrating new systems from multiple vendors. – If you have a good number of clients, you can get your hands on a variety of different platforms from different vendors. Even if you aren’t too fond of the solution, you can learn something from every vendor out there that can make you stronger technically.

      3. Don’t have to deal with office politics. – Your engagement with the client can sometimes be very brief. Even it is a recurring visit to the client, you are there to do a specific task. Other than dealing with their possible bad hygiene and occasional Star Trek reference, you are free from all the garbage that goes along with people working together in groups. This is assuming that the solution you presented has been approved.

      4. Hours can be a bit more flexible as well as the ability to work from home. – Some consultants are able to sit at home and watch all their favorite soap operas while cranking out design documents for solutions they have done so many times their kids can take over once they learn how to use Microsoft Visio. I think I may know a few consultants that dread going into the office because it means they have to put pants on. Although some corporate IT people are able to work from home, most lead lives spent in cubicles working 8am-5pm. Hours might vary in other countries.

      5. In the good consulting outfits, you are typically working with a larger number of technology friendly people. – Consultants are supposed to be on the upper end of experience and ability. That means they are somewhat nerdier on a per person basis than their corporate counterparts. I’m not going to go as far as this guy did and outright insult people. The consultants that I know(and maybe that explains my theory here) tend to have their act together for their particular field. I can’t say the same for all the corporate IT people I know. Yes, yes. I know all the consultant jokes and horror stories about having to clean up the mess that some consultants made on a network. That’s why I said…errrrr wrote “good consulting outfits”.

      Consulting Con’s

      1.Erratic hours driven by the needs of the client. – You get paid by rendering a service to the company that hired you as a consultant. That means you do things on their schedule. Quite often that means weekends or late nights. Of course, if you are a consultant with minimal pairs of pants, you probably don’t even get out of bed until noon so this isn’t a huge problem for you.

      2. Feast or famine when it comes to work. – Guess what gets cut when profits are down? You guessed it. The consultant. Guess who also has no job if your sales people are spending all their time at “customer” lunches at Hooters instead of bringing in more work? I think you get the idea.

      3. Constantly having to work on equipment you might not be familiar with. – At some point, every company employs a technical or purchasing person who just couldn’t pass up that great deal on eBay and bought a piece of network equipment that has been end-of-lifed and no longer has vendor support. Guess who gets called to fix it with a voodoo priest, 2 chickens, and a Ouija board? You guessed it. You!

      4. Spending a lot of time creating proposals that may not get selected. – I spent a few months shy of a decade working for the federal government, so I know a lot about doing work that doesn’t do anything beneficial for the employer(You are welcome tax payers of the USA!). The problem is that in the private sector “time is money”, so every minute spent developing a proposal is time your employer is paying you for. When you lose big deals, a lot of work went into the solution and nobody got paid for it. I realize that you won’t win every deal, but you should at least be winning some if you want to stay in business.

      I am sure I missed some. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

      Final Thoughts

      One of the things I have tried to focus on in the past year or two is becoming familiar with as many vendor solutions as I can. My dealings with vendors are probably a bit different as a potential end user as opposed to being in the sales channel and actually selling product. I wonder how much my interaction with vendors will change. I’m sure some increase in the amount of information I have access to will come if I am associated with a partner. I’m not sure it will be too much more than I already have. There’s a lot of things I won’t actually know unless I go and work for a reseller. However, there are also companies that deal direct with potential end users and others that only deal with a limited number of companies in a given area. I may find myself getting cut off from dealing with certain vendors if I work for a reseller that isn’t a partner of theirs.

      Some people might think relations with vendors aren’t a big deal. For me they are. If I were partial to only one company in networking, it might not be that big of a deal. Since no one company has the best products in every segment of networking, that’s not a realistic viewpoint for me. I guess to sum it all up, my decision to work for a vendor, corporation, or reseller in large part comes down to what the effect is on my interactions with networking vendors. Weird huh?

      Posted in career, vendors | Tagged , | 9 Comments

      This Is Why You Study Vendor Solutions!

      Today on my lunch break, I decided to watch some videos from Brocade on YouTube. I know. I know. You do the same thing right? Well, as I went through the playlist, an interesting video regarding IBM blade centers and Brocade switches was shown. Comparisons were made to the HP and Cisco blade enclosure offerings. IBM of course, came out on top, but in the course of the video, I couldn’t help but think how silly the comparisons were. I realize it is the job of marketing people to show their company’s products in the best light. However, sometimes it isn’t what they say, but what they don’t say. Take a few minutes to watch the video and see if you spot some things that weren’t mentioned.

      Some things to consider:

      1) How many slots are in the IBM H series, HP C7000 series, and Cisco UCS series blade centers/enclosures?
      2) Which of these solutions have switches on board? Hint: More than 1.
      3) How much bandwidth is needed per blade?
      4) In the case of Cisco UCS, why do they have fewer blades in their enclosure? Could memory capacity be a factor?

      I’m not emphatically stating that one vendor’s solution is better than another. As with anything, it depends on what your particular needs are. What this video reinforces for me is that you need to know the various options from vendors. The last thing you want to do is make decisions due to videos like this.

      Posted in vendors | Tagged | 2 Comments

      The Interop Time Machine

      Take a trip with me back to the 1990’s. The Internet was going mainstream. Corporate networks were on the rise. In my case, I was on a Banyan Vines network. There were a few Windows, Unix, and Linux servers here and there, but the bulk of it was Banyan Vines. I used Cabletron switches and hubs, Cisco routers, and Pairgain DSU’s. For monitoring, I had HP Openview. Sniffers were dedicated boxes from Network General and HP. Firewalls were Secure Computing Sidewinders. My web proxy box was from Netscape. My wireless gear was from Breezecom and linked buildings together that were too expensive to run fiber to. I even had Allied Telesyn transceivers all over the place due to a large number of AUI ports. Notice a pattern? Not one vendor dominated my network. I was a practitioner of technology and not of vendors.

      Now, fast forward to 2011……

      The moment I set foot on the show floor at Interop, I knew something was different. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, but after an hour or so of walking around the various vendor booths, I knew what it was. It was the 1990’s all over again. So many choices for technology all in one place and not one vendor was dominating it. I know some people are thinking “Well duh. It’s Interop! There’s always lots of vendors there.” Point taken.

      I’m going to list, in alphabetical order, the vendors I interacted with at Interop. I know there were more booths that I didn’t visit. I put in about 10 hours on the show floor between 2 days, and even with that amount of time, I couldn’t visit them all. If I listed them, it means I either walked through their booth, talked to someone about their solution, or both. In most cases it was both.

      Switching
      Alcatel-Lucent
      Arista
      Avaya
      Brocade
      Cisco
      Dell(SMB line is Dell’s. Enterprise grade stuff is Brocade rebranded.)
      Enterasys
      Extreme
      Force10
      HP
      Juniper

      Routing
      Alcatel-Lucent
      Brocade
      Cisco
      Force10
      HP
      Juniper
      Vyatta

      Wireless
      Avaya
      Brocade(Rebranded Motorola)
      Cisco
      Dell(Rebranded Aruba)
      HP
      Juniper
      Motorola
      Xirrus

      Voice
      Avaya
      Cisco
      HP
      Microsoft
      ShoreTel

      Load Balancing
      A10 Networks
      Brocade
      Cisco
      Citrix
      F5

      Security(VPN/Firewall/IPS/etc)
      Barracuda
      Cisco
      Citrix
      F5
      HP
      Juniper
      SonicWall
      WatchGuard

      WAN Optimization
      BlueCoat
      Cisco
      Juniper
      Riverbed

      Monitoring/Management(Wired and wireless)
      Cisco
      Gigamon
      HP
      MetaGeek
      NetScout
      Riverbed
      ScienceLogic

      I know there are plenty of good vendors that aren’t on this network-centric list. Some of those vendors were at Interop, but I didn’t get to visit their booths. I also would have loved to have seen companies like Aerohive, Ruckus, SilverPeak, and Palo Alto with booths on the expo floor. The point that I am REALLY trying to make here is that there were plenty of options to look at. Plenty of engineers to talk to and plenty of products to investigate. As an IT professional within a corporate environment, my goal is simply to make the best technology decisions for my employer. I saw quite a few interesting things out at Interop. I hope to write about some of them in the near future. I am still trying to process all of the information I took in and find time to jot things down in a coherent fashion.

      Let me leave you with one thought. If you are a networking professional, you should be familiar with a few of the companies I listed. For example, maybe you focus on one general area like wireless. If you look at the list of wireless companies and can only talk about 1 vendor’s product/solution set, do some research on the others. There is no “one size fits all” company. Problems are solved in a number of ways and usually with a number of vendors.

      If your goal is to become a better network engineer, you need to see what is being done across the industry. You might find that your vendor of choice is doing the best job out there. You might also find that they aren’t. If you get a chance to attend something like Interop, do it. Even if all you do is walk the floor, it will be worth it. Trust me.

      Disclaimer – HP paid for my travel and accommodations for Interop. Anything I say about any vendors(HP included) in regards to Interop will be my own personal viewpoint.

      Posted in vendors | Tagged | 3 Comments

      Finding Options Through Interop

      Thanks to HP, I am here at Interop in Las Vegas. I’ve had the chance to walk the exhibit hall and sit in on some sessions. While there’s a ton of things I am interested in and want to comment on, I simply want to touch on a quote I heard yesterday in a panel discussion regarding data center LAN design. It comes from Doug Gourlay of Arista.

      “Think. Be an engineer. Don’t be a vendor slave.”

      That comment needs to be burned into the mind of every networking professional out there. Interop is about a bunch of different vendors coming together to show off their product lines. Guess what? They all have different ideas about how to get things done. That’s okay. In fact, I want a difference of opinion. If you only go to one vendor to solve your technology problems, you’re probably doing it wrong.

      Posted in vendors | Tagged | Comments Off on Finding Options Through Interop

      HP Networking – Part 3

      If you haven’t read them already, here’s part 1 and part 2 of my HP posts. Those 2 posts focused more on the marketing aspect of HP and networking. My intent in this post is to discuss more of the technical approach that HP is taking with regards to networking, with a main focus on the datacenter. This post, and the other 2 came into being due to my direct involvement with Gestalt IT’s Tech Field Day 5 out in San Jose, California.

      When it comes to data centers, HP is focusing on 4 things. They are:

      1. Server virtualization
      2. Managing and provisioning the virtual edge
      3. Converged network infrastructure
      4. Environmental

      Make no mistake, HP is pushing hard in the data center to be the number 1 networking vendor. They are going to compete with Cisco and other vendors in categories other than price. They have some technology that they are fairly proud of. The bulk of that technology appears to come from the 3Com purchase, and as they roll out more of this technology, you see what a good acquisition that was for HP. There is, without a doubt, more technology to come from HP. The question is, can they compete once you get beyond the “we’re not Cisco” pitch?

      I will say that HP wants to inter-operate with just about anyone they can. They are pushing a standards based philosophy with all of their products. There are instances of proprietary or semi-proprietary functions within the HP solutions, but not an excessive amount. You can be pretty certain that HP will be able to talk to your hardware no matter the vendor. As an added bonus, HP pretty much gives you every feature available on their switches and routers. They don’t nickel and dime you with feature sets or upgrades. The only licensing uptick would be for IMC(management).

      With that, let’s take a look at their data center focus:

      1. Server virtualization – HP notes that server virtualization is really about maximizing the use of your hardware, which is mainly CPU utilization. However, they point out that the “killer app” when it comes to virtualization is NOT getting more CPU utilization. It is actually “vmotion”, or the ability to move server instances(VM guests) from one physical box to another in minimal time. While vmotion is a great feature, it introduces a few changes in how we consider data center design.

      *** Note: I am only referencing VMware when it comes to virtualization. I realize other vendors like Microsoft and Citrix have their own virtualization products, but the bulk of what I am hearing from vendors like HP is centered around VMware.

      A. Traffic patterns are shifting from “north-south” to “east-west” due to virtualization. For a more detailed explanation of this, see Greg Ferro’s post on data center traffic patterns.

      B. The ever increasing number of VM guests that are present on an ESX/ESXi host cause an increase in the amount of traffic flowing out of a physical server or blade enclosure onto the network. As a result, the bandwidth requirements are higher per physical box or port than they were in the past when a single OS resided on a physical server.

      In order to handle the increase in east-west traffic and get away from the traditional 3 tier switch model(Core, Distribution, Access), HP has developed their own layer 2 multipath technology called IRF(Intelligent Resilient Framework). You can read an in-depth whitepaper on IRF here.

       

      IRF is really just an advanced stacking technology. It turns a pair of switches into a single switch. All A series switches from HP are IRF capable. One of the benefits of IRF is that it turns a pair of switches into a single logical switch. If you are thinking that sounds a lot like Cisco’s VSS technology, you are correct. In fact, Ivan Pepelnjak wrote a post on IRF back in January of this year that compares IRF with VSS, vPC, and Juniper’s XRE200.

      A couple of interesting things about IRF are:

      A. You can run TRILL, SPB/PBB on top of it. Or I should say, you WILL be able to run TRILL and SPB/PBB when they are finalized.

      B. IRF can connect switches up to 100km apart. Although I am not sure what the usable application of that is, the capability is still there.

      C. IRF failover can occur in 2ms or less.

      D. You can have up to 24 IRF links between a pair of A12500 devices.

      E. Multi active detection (MAD) – This is used if connectivity between the 2 IRF switches is lost. 3 methods can be used to prevent a dual master scenario where each IRF switch(master and slave) think they are the only live switch and both assume master roles:

      1) LACP – HP uses extensions within the LACP standard.      They extend the protocol with a heartbeat, but it only works with HP hardware. If this heartbeat between the two switches is lost, the slave shuts off its ports and waits until the link is restored.
      2) BFD – Bidirectional forwarding detection. Using either an out of band link between the 2 IRF switches or using a standards based LACP link with another device other than the neighboring IRF switch, the HP switch can determine if the other IRF device is still online .
      3) ARP – Using reverse ARP, the HP switch can interoperate with another switch that may only understand spanning tree and determine if the other IRF switch is still online.

      2. Managing and provisioning the virtual edge – HP is trying to reduce the complexities involved in standing up additional VM guests as well as managing them. They want to take away the total time to provision a new guest by removing some of the silos involved in the process. This is similar to how Virtual Connect is designed to put more networking flexibility in the hands of the server/blade enclosure administrator. They also want to make it easier to move a VM guest from one host to another.

      Consider the following items that are a part of moving a VM guest from one host to another:

      A. Virtual machine
      B. Virtual NICs
      C. Virtual LANs
      D. Vmware Port Groups
      E. vSwitches
      F. Physical NICs
      G. Physical Switches

      You also have to look at what tools you use to manage all the various pieces of a physical and virtual environment. HP offers up IMC(Intelligent Management Center) to solve that problem. IMC is more than just “red light/green light” to use the words of HP. It is configuration management, RADIUS server, NAC(network access control), wireless, and other types of management all rolled up into one product.

      2 additional things to note:

      1. sFlow is built in to every one of HP’s networking products.

      2. HP is going to embrace standards based approaches to negate the Cisco Nexus 1000v but won’t comment on how they are going to do that, or what they will use. In other words, they are working on it.

      3. Converged network infrastructure – It is a very real possibility that the days of having a separate Fiber Channel network for storage are numbered. Vendors like Cisco, Brocade, and HP are supporting Fiber Channel over Ethernet(FCoE) now. Voice traffic was transitioned over to the Ethernet side several years ago and is now widely deployed around the world. You see far fewer separate voice networks out there these days. HP is guessing the same will be true for storage in the coming years. Some things to consider from HP:

      A. They will combine storage with Ethernet(FCoE) utilizing DCB standards.

      B. As of February when I attended Tech Field Day 5, HP doesn’t believe you can do more than 1 hop using FCoE because DCB protocols aren’t available yet.

      C. HP gives 2 options for FCoE today. Either via the A5820 TOR(top of rack) switch or via the VC(Virtual Connect) Flex Fabric modules using CNAs(converged network adapters).

      D. HP thinks true FCoE multi-hop will come around 2013. I’m sure companies like Cisco would disagree.

      The term that HP is using for this converged storage/voice/data network is CEE, which stands for Converged Enhanced Ethernet. This was one of the terms used in the early days of DCB. DCE, or Data Center Ethernet was the other term used. HP would like to see the term CEE used across the industry in the same way that the WiFi Alliance logo is found on all WiFi Alliance CERTIFIED hardware.

      4. Environmental – This is one area that I see a lot of promise from HP. It’s nice to see the enhancements to the 1’s and 0’s, but it is equally important to ensure that equipment is designed and monitored in an efficient manner. Some of the more interesting things HP is doing are:

      A. Lower power and cooling requirements in servers, routers, and switches.

      B. Building extra space in the top and bottom of devices to allow for better cooling. I guess you sacrifice an RU here and there with the tradeoff being less cooling required.

      C. Building a “Sea-of-Sensors” by incorporating technology into all of their systems and racks to manage heat and power distribution throughout a data center. The main benefit of this being that HP can actually generate heat maps within the DC to determine the hottest spots. The future application of this is that the network will be able to dynamically move resources around to get a more balanced heat level across the entire DC. Check out this demo that just focuses on heat within a single server.

      Closing Thoughts

      The more I look at HP, the more I think they might be able to make a huge dent in the network market. They already sell a lot of hardware and software in the network space, but I see them selling even more in the coming years. They view Cisco as their main competitor and as long as they focus on giving customers what Cisco cannot, they should be successful. While Cisco gets hammered on price, they also don’t get credit for producing network gear that usually has a ton of capabilities. The HP hardware will have to have somewhat similar features in order to stay competitive in the long run. Of all the networking companies out there, HP probably has the most resources and can compete easier than the other companies.

      Posted in data center, hp, vendors | Tagged , | Comments Off on HP Networking – Part 3

      Flip Is The Symptom, Not The Problem.

      Cisco has killed the Flip. Twitter and blogs are replicating this announcement out to the far corners of the Earth. I am cheering as are plenty of other network centric people.

      My friend Tom(@networkingnerd) spun up a quick post on his blog about the Flip. He doesn’t come out and say that he thought Cisco and Flip were a great partnership. He also doesn’t feel the need to pile on Cisco and point and laugh like so many of us are doing now. Tom says:

      “I’m going to take a slightly different line of reasoning here.  I don’t think Cisco failed with the Flip.  I don’t consider something to be a failure so long as you learned something from it.  Apollo 13 wasn’t a failed moon landing.  It was a successful astronaut rescue.  We learned how to think on the fly when the pressure was on and bring people home safely when it counted.  In a slightly different way, I think Cisco learned a lot about what went wrong with the Flip and dissecting it over the coming months should yield a lot of information about how to avoid things like this in the future.”

      While I agree in principle, I think the bigger problem with Cisco and Flip was focus. It’s not that Flip didn’t have revenue potential. I happen to think it is a cool product! If you read Tom’s post that I just referenced, he includes some good possibilities for Flip enhancements to make it even easier to share video with others. I think the problem was more of perception from end users of Cisco. By end users, I am not referring to the Linksys, Umi, Flip crowd. I am referring to enterprise networks and service provider customers.

      The signal that myself and others were getting from Cisco was that they wanted to be all things to all people. They wanted to meet the needs of every sector possible. In my opinion, it had everything to do with growing the company year after year, and quarter after quarter. It was because of that perception, that I think people started looking more heavily at alternatives to Cisco.

      Of course, Cisco can give you all sorts of numbers behind how many engineers support this line and that line. They’ll tell you that they are able to focus in all the different sectors they are in. New products are being released for each of these lines. The impression Cisco wants to convey is that they can juggle all of these different things and still produce quality products in a timely manner.

      Let’s assume those things are true. Let’s assume that Cisco CAN manage all the various business units and that they are all working in concert to achieve the goals John Chambers has set for them. All of that means absolutely nothing if the perception from the average end user out there is different. Perception is reality for so many of us.

      As luck would have it, the recent memo from John Chambers to the employees of Cisco has strengthened the viewpoint of many of us that Cisco needs to get back on track with the things they are good at.

      For what it’s worth, I still believe the following:

      1. Cisco produces some great products.
      2. Cisco has a large number of very smart and talented people working for them.
      3. Cisco can still innovate even outside of acquisitions.
      4. Cisco has a VERY effective marketing machine that can sell almost anything.
      5. Cisco wraps their products around a vast ecosystem that makes it hard to do without.
      6. Cisco WILL continue to dabble in the consumer market.

      Closing Thoughts

      I’ll sum it all up regarding the Flip with this: “Just because you can sell something, it doesn’t mean you should.”

      I hope that we’ll see some additional changes from Cisco in the coming year. Ditching the Flip is just the start. There’s too much competition out there right now for Cisco to ignore. Other companies are producing products that are technically superior and cost a lot less in several of the sectors that Cisco holds a lead in. As an end user, I want to see Cisco continue to produce good products. Ultimately, I have a responsibility to my employer to ensure the products we use are the best fit for the company. I can’t wait around hoping for change from vendors. I have to deal with the problems I have today and choose vendors that are focused on solving those problems. I’m not saying that I want to get rid of everything Cisco. I’m just saying that many of us are watching a lot closer than we have in the past.

      Am I wrong? There’s a good chance I might be. If you disagree, let me know in the comments below.

      Posted in cisco, vendors | Tagged , | 8 Comments