Apr 01 2014

SDN at the Forefront of HP’s Interop Initiatives

Computing giant kicks off Interop 2014 with a series of announcements aimed at turning networks from cost centers into revenue generators.

At Interop in Las Vegas this week, HP unveiled a series of new products and initiatives aimed at simplifying behind-the-scenes network management as well as improving the end-user experience and lowering costs by bringing software-defined networking (SDN) functionality to its converged Wi-Fi/wired office products.

First up is HP’s new Cloud Managed Network offering. Targeted at small and midsize businesses and distributed offices, this hosted infrastructure management solution promises to reduce the need for onsite staff and lower upfront costs by as much as 30 percent, thanks to a pay-per-use cloud model. This is especially important for companies with limited IT budgets.

The cloud-hosted management platform essentially speeds up network deployments by enabling businesses to configure HP access points from the cloud. It also allows for the streamlining of provisioning, management and troubleshooting of multiple distributed sites from a single platform.

HP plans to eventually expand its new Cloud-Managed Network product, available in June as a wireless-only solution, so it delivers single-pane-of-glass management in converged wired and wireless network environments.

Dominic Wilde, vice president of global product line management for HP Networking, explained that “the big differentiator” for the company’s software-managed cloud Wi-Fi solution is that it is “a global solution” that will continue to function locally even if the wider Internet connection is interrupted.

“If the connection to the cloud portal is not available,” Wilde told BizTech, “the onsite wireless network will continue to run.”

That cloud-connection independence is something HP customers have been asking for, he added.

HP also introduced new wireless access points, the HP 560 and 517, at the show. Both are 802.11ac compatible, so they perform three times faster than previous 802.11n models. These access points are also OpenFlow-enabled, which means businesses can use SDN applications for network management and configuration purposes.

OpenFlow is a communications protocol that lets IT leverage SDN applications to control compliant switches and routers on the network. Long a supporter of OpenFlow SDN, HP says it has already shipped more than 25 million units across 50 switch models with the protocol enabled. HP plans to release a software upgrade to bring its current line of HP 430 and 460 802.11n wireless points into compliance with OpenFlow, as well.

It’s All About Context

At Interop, HP also revealed a major mobile initiative entailing a partnership with Citrix and MobileIron to provide mobile device management integration with the HP Intelligent Management Center (IMC) platform, along with SDN-enabled location technology developed by HP Labs. Together, the technologies enable a range of new context-aware retail, asset management and security applications.

By running an SDN controller to provide accuracy indoors, IMC will enable applications to locate items, say, in a retail setting, “with an accuracy of within a meter or two,” Kash Shaikh, director of global marketing for HP Networking, explained to BizTech. That’s far better than the 10 or so meters offered by competitive indoor location-aware solutions, he asserted.

To demonstrate the value of location-aware SDN technology, HP has developed a sample app called SmartShopper, which guides customers, via their smartphones, to products and services they are interested in (a brand of cereal, for example) through the use of analytics in real time.

According to Wilde, SmartShopper merges location awareness with a backend server and map that details the location of items throughout a store while tapping into Big Data analytics in real time. This gives retailers the ability to cross-check consumers’ current location with their buying history based on information gathered from the use of a rewards card, for example. The system can then use that data to push people toward a sale they might be interested in by sending them a text message while they shop. Or a mall could steer customers to a store based on their buying habits and interests.

A Network Aligned with the Business

HP told BizTech that by showing off SmartShopper, it is demonstrating how the network manger now has the technology to drive meaningful conversations with business leaders.

IT can better align the network with the needs of the business and, more important, show management how the company can use the technology to create new lines of business.

“Our customers are telling us that their networks are primarily cost centers that are too complex to manage while they facing increasing end-user demand for a better mobile experience,” said Bethany Mayer, HP senior vice president and general manager, Networking Business Unit and Network Functions Virtualization Business. “With HP’s cloud-managed and SDN-enabled unified wired and wireless solutions, we are enabling IT organizations to provide an improved mobile user experience, as well as offering simplified management and investment protection.”