HP unveils high-speed switches

Hewlett-Packard Co. last week released networking hardware and software products designed to bring gigabit speed and higher performance to local-area networks, including medium-size and small workgroup operations within federal agencies, HP officials said.

The new HP ProCurve 6308M-SX routing switch has the same features as the higher-end HP ProCurve 9300 routing switch the company currently offers, but it is cheaper. The other new offering is HP's ProCurve 6208M-SX switch, designed for organizations that are price-sensitive and do not need routing support but still want gigabit capabilities from a Layer 2 switch.

Both devices are fixed, eight-port managed gigabit switches that deliver 12 million packets/sec wire-speed performance and 32 gigabits/sec aggregate switching capacity.

HP has a 4 percent share of the $3.5 billion switch market worldwide, making it fifth behind Cisco Systems Inc.'s 48 percent, Nortel Networks Inc.'s 12 percent, 3Com Corp.'s 11 percent and Cabletron Systems Inc.'s 7 percent, said Esmeralda Silva, senior analyst at International Data Corp.

Any company that has at least a 2 percent share is positioned well because the market is growing, she said."The bottom line is vendors are trying to make sure they have a complete product family and that they fill in all gaps," Silva said. "HP has been really effective at coming out with very low price points and a lot of functionality packed in, and they have an installed base out there that certainly looks to them to provide those types of products."

The 6308M provides a gigabit aggregation point needed by small to medium-size groups looking for high-performance networking. It also works as a gigabit aggregator switch to enhance configurations that include a core switch, such as ProCurve 9300 in a large network.

The wiring closet at many organizations hold two to four switches, said Darla Sommerville, product manager for the HP ProCurve line. The 6308M would enable those organizations to aggregate those boxes to get gigabit transmission speed, Sommerville said.

The 6308M, available through several government resellers, is priced at $15,000 on the General Services Administration schedule. The 6208M, designed for more price-sensitive agencies, is priced at $11,000, said HP federal sales representative Iva Vaeth.

An Air Force base is looking at the 6208M to act as a server switch that would connect to three servers holding the data for a document imaging station, said Vaeth, who declined name the Air Force base interested in the equipment.

Users would connect to a 6208M server switch using what HP calls "mesh technology" through HP ProCurve 4000 switches. The advantage of the mesh is that data transmitted from desktops to the 4000s would find the most efficient path over the gigabit connection to the 6208M, Vaeth said.

"We are trying to get high-speed [networking] all the way down, as close to the user as we possibly can," Vaeth said.

Vaeth also has pitched the 6208M to a civilian agency, which she also declined to identify, that potentially could use the switch in its data center. This would provide the gigabit speed from a larger switch in the data center to 6208M switches in the wiring closet. From there the agency could "cascade" several 4000 switches, she said. Government agencies, particularly the Army and the Energy Department, are following the trend-setters in the private sector that are running 10/100 megabits/sec to the desktop and Gigabit Ethernet on the backbone, Vaeth said.

The company last week also announced free software updates for its 1600M, 2400M, 2424M, 4000M and 8000M ProCurve switches. The updates add switch meshing, Cisco Systems Inc.'s Fast EtherChannel and Layer 3 protocol filters, previously available only for the 1600M and 8000M.

The software helps ensure maximum network performance for mission-critical applications and servers, Sommerville said. For example, it allows network managers to set up multiple redundant links to switch devices, which keeps traffic moving by finding the best path for the data.

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