The InfoWorld Test Center's 10-Gig switch-off

High-end networking gear from Hewlett-Packard and Extreme Networks prove their enterprise worth in a grueling gauntlet challenge

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Basic throughput produced a line rate of just less than 99 percent due to some unavoidable traffic overhead because our testing scenario requires packet tagging. Our voice, video, and data tests clearly showed the ProCurve solution was capable of protecting high-priority traffic streams during oversubscription conditions while maintaining acceptable video playback and solid VoIP call-quality scores.

On our optional tests, HP chose to run our self-defending network gauntlet. We released a Nimbda worm from a couple of end points on the network using Spirent’s ThreatEx testing gear. Almost immediately, ProCurve Manager posted an event alert while locating the offending MAC addresses and shutting them down. That’s an important distinction because some architectures would simply cut off the entire port in this scenario. Do that, however, and another user in the midst of a VoIP call, for example, might well get cut off. By scoping and sniping down to the MAC address level, ProCurve’s network defense ensures that it’s nuking only offenders, not innocent digital bystanders.

Overall, HP’s ProCurve truly impressed us as a viable 10GbE solution for enterprises of any size. The company is highly motivated to make this point, and it shows not only in its pricing but in its close attention to features, as well as its integration of various technologies, including PoE, WLAN switching, and identity management. The fact that HP backs all this up with various lifetime warranties over 95 percent of its switching product line doesn’t hurt.

Ready to make the 10-gig switch

Comparing the Extreme and HP solutions directly, we were struck by several things. First, line-rate, bit-blasting performance was very similar. Our Spirent TestCenter performance tests deliberately used typical corporate data sets and data patterns, as well as a typical load. Both families of switching products handed in performance numbers that were very similar. That tells us that 10-Gig switch engineering has matured quite a bit over the large variances in 10-Gig performance that we used to see.

Next we noticed price. Extreme’s solution was a multiple of HP’s in terms of cost. Partially, that’s because Extreme paid close attention to our RFP scenario, based on requirements at the University of Hawaii. The equipment the company brought was enough to scale to that real-world user load. HP, on the other hand, glossed over that part of the invitation and brought along only enough equipment to complete our performance tests. Although the solution HP brought would not have been capable of handling the large-scale scenario in our RFP, HP’s larger chassis probably would have.

But another aspect of the cost issue is focus: HP is entirely focused on the enterprise and capturing new customers there. Extreme builds excellent products for use in any situation. HP is building ProCurve products specifically for enterprise use, not carriers, and with a decidedly corporate spin on pricing, support, and warranty policies. Overall, for enterprise scenarios with typical requirements and tight budgets, we’d recommend the ProCurve platform. These customers will get an excellent value, solid performance, and quite a bit of new innovation that HP has planned for this platform down the road.

For enterprises with exceptional traffic loads and topology requirements, on the other hand, we can’t recommend Extreme’s BlackDiamond enough. Whether it’s tricky or indicative of ultraheavy loads, these switches can handle it.

As far as 10 Gig in the enterprise goes, it’s no longer about blasting bits; it’s about the additional hardware and software synergies that vendors are building into their switching lines. These include many of the features we tested during our optional tests, including identity management, attack detection and throttling, intrusion detection and prevention, and noticeably more intelligent and automated management.

Please click here for a PDF of the complete features comparison table.

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InfoWorld Scorecard
Security (20.0%)
Scalability (25.0%)
Setup (20.0%)
Management (25.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Extreme BlackDiamond 10808 and 8810 9.0 9.0 8.0 8.0 7.0 8.4
HP ProCurve 5406zl and 3500yl Intelligent Edge 9.0 7.0 8.0 8.0 8.0 8.0
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