Earlier this month at HPE Discover, Aruba announced a brand new core and aggregation switch, the 8400. The company is positioning the 8400 as a competitor to the venerable Catalyst 6500, among others.
By adding a core/aggregation switch to its portfolio, Aruba asserts its willingness to compete for network business from the branch all the way through to the campus core.
It’s a bold play for a company that’s best known as a WLAN vendor, though the company already has a range of access and aggregation switches. With the 8400 added to the lineup, Aruba can make a play to own APs and access switches, and then go all the way to the heart of the campus network (leaving the data center to HPE’s partner Arista).
The 8400 includes a redesigned operating system called ArubaOS-CX. Based on my understanding, Aruba used its existing network protocol code, but wrapped it around a new, Linux-derived base OS.
The OS uses a modular design so that individual processes or functions can be stopped, updated, and restarted without having to take the entire switch offline. The new OS also includes a built-in database to store network state.
The switch also includes a Network Analytics Engine that can be used for monitoring and basic automation. For example, an administrator can program the engine to collect metrics, and then set a threshold to trigger an automated response based on those metrics (i.e. if queue depth reaches X, do Y).
Aruba representatives said all the right things about product testing and their commitment to code quality, and I have no reason to doubt their sincerity. That said, potential customers should prepare for glitches and unexpected outcomes when deploying a new OS in the wild world of a production network.
The box itself is 8RU. Aruba claims total throughput of 19.2 Tbps. It supports up to 256 10GbE ports, 64 40GigE, or 48 40/100 GigE ports, and the requisite L2 and L3 protocols and services, including VLANs, STP, OSPF and BGP.
More details are available from Aruba here.
Do You Want This Switch?
I don’t know. There are commendable features here, including the modular OS and improved visibility and programmability, and Aruba is smart to embrace these trends because it seems that’s where the network industry is headed.
But one major hurdle (pointed out by Keith Townsend at a blogger roundtable at HPE Discover) is that core switches are really hard to dislodge because…they’re core. Just like the arc reactor that keeps Tony Stark alive, a core switch powers critical business applications, and you mess with it at your peril.
We’ll have to see how much of a hurdle this presents for Aruba. But I’m pleased to see a competitor pushing hard in the campus. As Cisco’s recent spate of announcements indicates, there’s a lot of opportunity to innovate in this space.