Another re-post I’m afraid. I have a bad cold and can’t concentrate. the original post is at http://h30507.www3.hp.com/t5/HP-Networking/ProVision-Inside/ba-p/94329. This was my weigh-in on the debate over what was preferable to use in network switches following HP’s acquisition of 3COM (since HP has always focused on ASIC whilst 3COM was pretty much all MS). Here we go…
Whilst initially it might look like there might be some conflict at HP between merchant Silicon (i.e.. A-series and other 3Com acquisitions) and ASIC (i.e.. E-series or legacy ProCurve) I believe that a valid strategy exists for both.
In Data Centre space, standards are king. MPLS, BGP, OSPF, etc. Everything has to interoperate cleanly and it is unlikely in the extreme to encounter a mono-vendor environment when taking into account: switches, routers, firewalls, load balancers, wan accelerators, traffic shapers, etc. In this sort of environment, merchant silicon makes perfect sense for switches and routers. New technology is rarely introduced into the core of a DC environment; and the fundamentals change glacially slowly. I think the IPv6 (and its associated routing protocols) is the only technology likely to start becoming prevalent as a core component of DCs that is much less than 10 years old. With such tried and true technology, it makes sense to use less expensive and more standardised Merchant Silicon than investing time in developing customing ASICs that have features that will never be used.
Out on the edge, the reverse is true. VoIP, UC, Web 2.0 (3.0, 4.0…), and other emerging technologies along with the vast increase in component performance makes customised technology not only advantageous, but necessary. Most organisations these days are DC-centric but still require a number of technologies to be deployed at the edge/branch level including: PABX, Switching, Routing, Security, Wan Acceleration, Print Server, etc. Historically this has meant a fairly substantial wiring cupboard (or more likely a full server room/rack) to be implemented at each branch along with associated cooling and power redundancy. Using the ProVision-based E8200/E5400 most if not all these functions can be consolidated into a single, highly-available device. This offers both cost and efficiency savings and will certainly appeal to those interested in Green IT.
It’s for this reason that I’ve started to think of the ProVision switches as “Application Switches” with their own niche that other vendors are woefully behind. Unlike so-called Integrated Service devices which offer extremely cut-down versions of the services their are purported to support, the ProVision Application Switch architecture allows the deployment of multiple full-blown systems (often integrating other leading vendor technologies) into a ludicrously small platform.
Rather than diminish the importance of the legacy ProVision architecture, I believe that the introduction of the A-Series range has created a differentiation that has clarified the role of a product that is years in advance of its competitors.