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An open API for networking technology?

Procurve's 'bold new security vision strategy'

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Futures Although I concentrate mainly on development these days, in previous lives I was involved in internal control and network management in a City financial institution and I like to keep up to date with networking and network security – especially as I believe that networking technology represents a long-neglected opportunity for developers.

If "the network is the computer" (in the phrase coined by John Gage of Sun in 1984), the network should be a fundamental part of automated business service design.

But I'm a bit rusty, so it was good to talk over these ideas with John McHugh (vice president and general manager for ProCurve Networking by HP), in town to present his vision for Adaptive Edge networking.

This announcement, he claims, is only the second vision statement HP has made in some 10 years (the other was the announcement of Adaptive Edge itself, around 2002) and, he says, it differs from most vendors' vision statements in that it is an internal directive for its engineers as much as a message to the industry and its customers. Not just marketing B/S then, which is refreshing.

I'll keep to a detailed discussion of what the technical strategy for Adaptive Edge is for a networking audience (if you're interested, follow the link). What it means for developers is that the technology devices on the edge, which for years have been specialised computers running a specialised operating system, are becoming an open, general-purpose (for some, possibly rather tightly defined, value of "general") programming platform.

It's not quite there yet, but HP ProCurve devices are very close to having industry-standard technology inside the silicon, and this is already available to HP's technology partners, who can extend HP's own ability to deliver networking management applications, say, by writing specialised applications to run on its hardware. HP is very aware that, however good its engineers are, it doesn't have a monopoly on brains or good ideas – the more it opens its platform (in a managed, controlled, manner), the more compelling it will become.

Over the next two to three years, I see this platform becoming available to the developers in new, more opportunistic HP partner companies; perhaps even to developers in general. These developers will provide applications running on network devices at the edge of the network, close to where they are used, dealing with, for example, network integrity issues, mobility, access management, application optimisation (load balancing) and, perhaps, RFID filtering.

This vision of an open API for networking technology isn't a formal announcement today, but McHugh says he doesn't speak off the record (although he also confirms that he really isn't making any product announcements just now, either). It is part of his future vision for ProCurve: "I absolutely have this on my roadmap – you and I are of one mind."

Follow McHugh's strategic vision in more detail in "Upfront with John McHugh", on video here. This also talks about HP's relationship with Cisco, which has its own "Application Oriented Networking" (AON) vision, which Tom Welsh commented on for us here. Rest assured, HP is still aiming at mainstream networking rather than peripheral markets (which McHugh seems content to leave to Cisco) and McHugh believes in open technologies: "Even if I get as big as Cisco I'm not going to turn into Cisco," he says.

Of course, the devil is in the detail and McHugh's strategic view encompasses a vision in which all the business assets of a company are accessible on the network at all times – which makes secure, robust, identity-based management absolutely fundamental to its realisation.

It's all very well having an open platform and the ability to turn on software within a device on a per instance basis – but you must also track licensing and authentication reliably. Customers must be able to specify who can access the network; and also what it can be accessed by (mobile phones and computers are players on the network as well as people). And, robust audit trails of accesses and changing access permissions will have to be maintained. Providing applications that can turn raw logging data into business-level information that can be understood by managers and regulators will be yet another opportunity for developers.

Read about ProCurve's "bold new security vision strategy" here. ®

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