HPE and Pensando Rack Up New Distributed Switch


By: Mary Jander

Pensando, a startup specializing in programmable chips for distributed servers, has teamed with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (NYSE: HPE)'s Aruba subsidiary to create a “distributed services switch” to streamline security and accelerate processing in hybrid cloud environments.

The Aruba CX 10000 is a top-of-rack L2/L3 switch for use in data centers linked to public- and private-cloud environments and enterprise edge locations. In the past, moving traffic east/west across resources handling this traffic required placing additional load-balancing and security hardware centrally or side-by-side with servers and switches serving distinct clouds. The result? A mess of multivendor hardware and software with nightmarish maintenance and management.

Now, the vendors say, security and networking functions are built right into Pensando’s P4 Data Processing Unit (DPU), dubbed “Elba,” which is integral to the Aruba switch. No need for extra load balancing and security hardware.

“It’s [got the] ability to redefine everything with software in silicon, and that’s a lot different than what the industry’s seen before,” said Pensando board chairman John Chambers (ex-Cisco CEO), in a joint appearance with HPE CEO Antonio Neri on The Cube. And in an HPE press release, Chambers stated:

“This new category – the Distributed Services Switch, enabled by Pensando software-in-silicon, makes the process of deploying distributed services, previously only available to hyperscalers like AWS, in the enterprise both simple and more cost-effective. By eliminating legacy appliances and host software, enterprises can deliver 100x the scale and 10x the performance at 1/3 the TCO of traditional approaches.”

Some Speeds and Feeds

While the CX 10000 doesn’t eliminate the use of other security wares, it is capable of applying zero trust network access (ZTNA), distributed denial of service (DDoS) protection, stateful firewall functionality, and telemetry to east-west traffic within the data center and at the network edge.

The CX 10000 implements microsegmentation, which improves security by isolating applications, hosts, containers, or virtual machines from one another if there’s no need to them to connect. In the future, the vendors say, the CX 10000 will support network address translation (NAT) and encryption services for interacting with public clouds.

The CX 10000 can be managed via Aruba’s Fabric Composer and/or Pensando’s Policy and Services Manager (PSM), which is equipped with application programming interfaces (APIs) to integrate with other vendor’s management systems.

The CX 10000 features 3.2 Tbit/s of switching capacity with 48 ports of 10 or 25 GbE and six ports of 40 or 100 GbE. It’s set for general availability in January 2022.

The Aruba/Pensando Connection

The CX 10000 builds on an ongoing close relationship between HPE and Pensando, a Futuriom 40 company founded in 2017 by a trio of Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO) veterans – Vipin Jain, now CTO of Pensando; Prem Jain, now CEO; and Soni Jiandani, now chief business officer. From the start, HPE was a backer, not just as a technology partner but as an investor, and HPE retains a board seat at Pensando. Luca Cafiero, a senior VP at Cisco, is also a board member, along with Mario Mazzola, who, with Prem Jain and Soni Jiandani, formed the famous “MPLS Group” of investors and founders in startups such as Insieme that later became part of Cisco.

Judging by HPE CEO Antonio Neri’s comments to the The Cube, the relationship between HPE and Pensando is vital to HPE’s mission. “Aruba has been incredibly foundational, not only to grow the company but also to give us the foundation technology to become ‘that edge to cloud’ company [single quotes added],” he said. He noted that this is the first effort HPE has made to add Pensando’s DPU capabilities to a switch, since the companies joined technologies in HPE servers last year.

What remains to be seen is how well HPE will tie together the management of its growing herd of smart edge devices equipped with Pensando components -- as well as its other Aruba offerings. Also, Pensando appears to be tied to HPE’s apron strings, not to mention Cisco’s, which could limit its potential partnerships, at least for a while.

And competition is growing. NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA), for instance, offers similar data center security, storage, and acceleration capabilities in its BlueField DPUs as part of its artificial intelligence (AI)-capable chips, which are available in several top-brand servers. There is also the chip shortage to consider.

Still, the Aruba CX 10000 offers an innovative solution for data centers that need it. And if HPE and Pensando can build on this innovation even more, the results could be dramatic.