HP Introduces SDN Development Tools, Plans App Store

A mockup of HP's planned SDN App Store

A mockup of HP’s planned SDN App Store

Will apps be the killer app for software-defined networking realizing its much-hyped potential in the market? Hewlett-Packard is betting they will, unveiling both an SDN developer kits and plans for an SDN app store in a move it says will help to democratize the development of network applications.

HP has been a longtime supporter of SDN – last year at the fall Interop in New York City, the company showed off a new SDN-centric network controller, an displayed proofs-of-concept for its first SDN applications with Sentinel, a security app co-developed along with HBO. At this year’s fall Interop, that long-announced controller is about to ship – it’s actually slated to hit the market in the first week of November. But the company’s focus is on getting network applications built.

IDC pegs the SDN market at $3.7 billion by 2016. Of that, some $670 million will be on SDN applications. So it’s a large, but not massive, part of the overall SDN picture. But just as traditional software has sold a lot of hardware over the last three decades, those SDN applications will also pull with them a good percentage of that SDN hardware investment figure. So it’s clearly in HP’s interest to make sure those apps get written.

The company’s vision is to create an environment that can allow anyone “from big partners like Microsoft to six guys in a garage” to build and market SDN applications, said Kash Shaikh, director of product, channel, and technical marketing for HP Networking. The development kit will include both the development environment, APIs, and tools to build applications, as well as access to an HP-hosted virtual lab to test applications built in the environment.

The company also has a plan to help bring those new SDN apps to market, announcing plans to launch an SDN App Store by the second half of next year. The app store would be a repository for partners and customers to discover and acquire applications that run on HP’s SDN application controller, and HP is thinking big.

“What Apple did for the consumer market, we will do for the enterprise space,” Shaikh said.

The model would borrow heavily from Apple’s App Store model. Apps in the store will carry a degree of vetting and approval by HP, HP will maintain the app repository infrastructure, and HP will take a cut of any applications that are sold through the store. Shaikh said the store will have categories for HP-developed apps, apps developed jointly by HP and its partners, apps developed by partners, and finally, a category for “community apps” which may include offerings from smaller players or individuals, as well as free applications. HP will offer its support services around the first three categories of applications.

Unlike Apple, HP seems to be taking a more pragmatic approach to working with partners on its App Store. While details of the business model for the App Store are still in the works, Shaikh hinted that HP would be offer ways for partners to resell apps on the store to customers, and is looking at ways to include software purchased on an “as-a-service” model as well as straight upfront purchases.

HP is already working with a variety of partners, including Microsoft and VMware, on SDN-based applications to run on the controller and eventually be offered through the app store.

While applications offered in the App Store will have to run on HP’s controller, the company is a bit more agnostic on network infrastructure. Like the controller itself, apps will be able to run on any networking gear that supports OpenFlow, and there are currently 25 million ports already in the market using the standard, with more coming online regularly.

“There’s a real opportunity here for our partners and developers alike to use this new marketplace to monetize these applications, Shaikh said.

A proliferation of ready-made applications suited to a variety of needs at a variety of price points could help take SDN, currently an enterprise play and one still being baked at that, deeper into both the midmarket audience and the channel that serves it. Making it more plug and play and taking away the need for custom code writing should allow smaller organizations to get involved easier, particularly those that already have OpenFlow-capable networks in place – HP’s controller starts at $495, so the technological barriers to entry are limited.

“We feel it’s going to break down the barriers, from the partner’s perspective, from the customer’s perspective, and from the developer’s perspective,” Shaikh said.

How exactly it will break those barriers down is yet to be determined. The popularity of Apple’s iOS App Store, for example, resulted in a much discussed “race to the bottom,” where the idea is to monetize the development of an application by selling millions of copies at a dollar apiece, rather than tens of thousands at $9.99. But even if the SDN market catches fire, it will not have the same economies of scale, nor draw the same sheer number of developers, and that should hopefully leave decent software margins for developers and partners.

And if a successful SDN app store is able to draw more and smaller customers to the technology, it should also be able to provide opportunities to a broader array of HP’s networking channel partners than currently see opportunities in the SDN market.