by Clement Teo, Bryan Wang, Katyayan Gupta (this blog is also published by Clement Teo)

We recently met with Huawei executives during the launch of its latest product in China, the S12700 switch.  The product, which ships in limited quantity in Q1 2014 is designed for managing campus networks, and acts as a core and aggregation switch in the heart of campus networks. While wired/wireless convergence, policy control and management come as standard features, the draw is the Ethernet Network Processor (ENP). The ENP competes against merchant silicon in competitive switch products, and Huawei claims to be able to deliver new programmable services in six months, compared to one to three years for competitive application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) chips. This helps IT managers respond quicker to the needs of campus network users, especially in the age of BYOD, Big Data, and cloud computing.

While it is a commendable product in its own right, Huawei will need to position its value more strategically against IT managers that have technology inertia, especially in ‘Cisco-heavy’ networks:

  • Tying the value of the switch to existing and future enterprise campus needs. In the age of cloud computing, big data, mobility, and social networking, IT managers need to solve network challenges like insufficient service processing capability and slow service responses. Huawei says the new switch is able to provide agile services and respond flexibly to changes in service requirements, on demand. For example, the switch has access control built in for wired/wireless access management. This is a good start. Enterprises will need to understand how the switch plays a central role in a campus network, and Huawei should continue to reinforce its agile network architecture’s storyline.
  • Highlighting ENP’s programmability, while downplaying SDN. This is an important distinction as the switch is not meant to divert the conversation to software-defined networking (SDN), which is more focused on data centre transformation, and rarely on campus networks. The ENP is a nice piece of work on the programming front, and Huawei says it could make SDKs and APIs available to ISVs and ISPs to customize it further for customers. Currently, the switch is able to deliver BRAS and wired/wireless services.
  • Huawei needs its channel partners to share its vision. There is little doubt that channel partners are essential to Huawei; the challenge is to get them to articulate the same vision and value that Huawei is pushing with this switch. While they are making progress, as Tirthankar Sen points out, this is a new product that needs a more refined message. This is particularly true when Huawei needs ISVs’ help to develop services on this programmable switch and demonstrate wider opportunities.

At the launch, Huawei also announced that access switches with programmable ENP (again in limited numbers) will be available in Q1 2014.  Compared with convincing network managers to replace the network’s core, which is an uphill task given the entrenched incumbent in the space, it might be an easier play to for them to start trials from the edge of the campus.