Data center 10G whets switching companies appetites

Announcements from four vendors this week highlight a growing trend in data center networking: the rapid uptake of 10 Gigabit Ethernet to accommodate increasing computational and storage density brought on by application growth, increasing use of blade servers and large-scale virtualization.

Brocade, Extreme Networks, 3Com and Force10 Networks are all unveiling new or enhanced products designed to accommodate the growing use of 10 Gigabit Ethernet in data centers. The products range from a core switch to end-of-row and top-of-rack devices, and modules that support very high density 10/100/1000Mbps Ethernet aggregation.

Users are deploying 10G Ethernet to aggregate hundreds of Gigabit Ethernet server connections and even linking 10G Ethernet server network-interface cards into the data center switching fabric. In fact, 10 Gigabit Ethernet is peaking right now, vendors say, just before 40/100G Ethernet products and standards are expected beginning late this year.

Brocade feels the time is right to unveil its first 10G Ethernet top-of-rack switch. The company's TurboIron 24X is a 1RU device supporting 24 10G Ethernet SFP+ ports and line rate, non-blocking performance of 488Gbps. The TurboIron 24X also features 1/10G Ethernet dual-speed ports to assist users in migrating from Gigabit Ethernet to 10 Gigabit Ethernet, and four 10/100/1000Mbps copper for ports shorter range and lower speed server connections.

Brocade says the TurboIron 24X offers a 40% to 65% reduction in total cost of ownership (TCO) over a five-year period compared with Cisco's Nexus 5000 and 4900M switches, Extreme's X650 and Force10's S2410. These figures include the cost of powering and cooling the switch, according to Brocade.

Brocade also is introducing a stackable switch for campus networks that the company says supports the highest Power over Ethernet (PoE) Plus stackable port density. PoE Plus is an extension of the PoE standard for video support, among other features.

The FastIron CX is available in 24- or 48-port PoE or non-PoE models in a 1RU form factor. It can support as many as 26 PoE Plus ports with redundant power, includes four 100/1000Mbps fiber uplinks, and an optional two port 10G Ethernet module.

Lastly, Brocade is unveiling an application switch for service providers designed to scale performance and density as data centers and content demands grow. The ServerIron ADX supports 70Gbps of Layer 4-7 throughput and 16 million Layer 4 transactions per second in a 320Gbps switch fabric. It is available in fixed and chassis configurations with interchangeable modules, Brocade says.

The TurboIron 24X costs $12,000. The FastIron CX costs $5,500 and the ServerIron ADX costs $22,000. All are scheduled to be available in the third quarter.

Instead of new switches, Brocade competitor Extreme is set to unveil new modules for its existing BlackDiamond 8800 chassis that effectively make it into a new switch — which Extreme calls the BlackDiamond 8900.

The modules include a switch fabric card that provides up to 128Gbps per slot on the 8900, Extreme says. They also include a 24-port 10G Ethernet module and a 96-port Gigabit Ethernet card.

The boards are designed to scale the 8900 to 582 10G Ethernet ports per rack while using the same chassis customers already have to lower upgrade costs. Extreme says it is now the leader in per-slot switching capacity and 10G port density per rack with the 8900 blades, outdistancing Cisco's Nexus 7000, Brocade's BigIron RX-16, Force10's ExaScale E-series – which was just announced at 100Gbps per slot – and Juniper's EX8200.

Extreme also says the modules use a maximum of 2 watts per Gigabit Ethernet and 10 watts per 10G Ethernet port, which helps lower the TCO of the products.

"When Cisco came out with the Nexus 7000, a lot of customers are on the [Cisco] Catalyst 6500. Now they're going to have to replace a working piece of equipment with this new [switch]," says analyst Bill Terrill of Current Analysis. "What Extreme has done is gone ahead and said we are compatible with the chassis, you can keep using existing blades, and if you need higher performance … they have an ongoing extension."

The 8900 switch fabric card and 96-port Gigabit Ethernet module cost $25,000 apiece. The 24-port 10G Ethernet module costs $45,000. They will all be available later this quarter.

Lower TCO is also 3Com's rallying cry for reentering the U.S. large enterprise/data center switching market after exiting it — twice. In 2000, 3Com alienated its largest enterprise customers by abruptly killing its CoreBuilder switch and encouraging customers to migrate to Extreme. 3Com then attempted a reentry into the large enterprise switching arena through a joint venture with China's Huawei in 2003. That venture was successful in China but barely made a dent in the United States. A few years later, 3Com bought out Huawei's stake in the joint venture and in 2008, after a failed attempt to be acquired by Bain Capital and Huawei, 3Com established its leadership and operational focus on China when it named Robert Mao as CEO, replacing Edgar Masri.

3Com is again attempting to reestablish itself in United States and other international data centers and large enterprises after a successful run in China, where it claims market share leadership in enterprise switches and routers. 3Com says the time is ripe for tapping the U.S. market because the recession is sowing the seeds of disruptive change and prompting users to consider alternatives to their incumbent vendors, says President and COO Ron Sege.

"We're proven in China with large-scale networks and demanding customers," Sege says. "This is a unique opportunity that 3Com hasn't seen in the past."

But 3Com's banking on past practices to reengage itself with large enterprises globally: undercutting the competition on price and TCO. Even though 3Com did not announce pricing on its S 12500 data center switch, the company is claiming price/performance advantages over Cisco's Nexus 7000 – twofold in performance and density – and half the power consumption.

The S12500 can support as many as 512 10G Ethernet ports and 864 Gigabit Ethernet ports in a full rack configuration, 3Com says. It features 2.2 billion pps forwarding and 6.6Tbps switching capacity in an architecture designed for future 40/100G Ethernet, FibreChannel over Ethernet and data center-optimized Ethernet applications.

3Com also is rolling out a fixed configuration switch that can be virtually stacked to achieve performance comparable to a modular switch. The S5800G/XG switch is designed for top-of-rack data center, medium-sized enterprise core and high-density access applications. It supports 24 10G Ethernet ports or as many as 192 in a virtual stack; and 80 Gigabit Ethernet ports or 640 per stack.

The S5800 is also field upgradeable to PoE and PoE Plus, 3Com says. The company will also roll out a management application, called the H3C Intelligent Management Center (IMC), for centralized FCAPS management of its switches and routers, and third-party devices.

But will any of this make a difference to non-Chinese large enterprise users that 3Com twice backed away from?

"Their credibility is challenged," says analyst Zeus Kerravala of the Yankee Group. "I think though that the current economy cuts them a break. The Cisco premium is becoming quite [burdensome]. The S12500 is a good switch and product quality has never been a problem for 3Com. But can they secure a large systems integrator partner and how long will it take them to get some really good lighthouse wins" outside of China?

The S12500 and S5800 switches are slated to ship in July. The S5800 is priced from $6,500 to $18,000. The IMC software is expected to be available in June; pricing was not disclosed.

Market mainstay Force10 will emphasize density with a 90-port 10/100/1000Base-T line card for its recently introduced ExaScale E-Series 600 and 1200 switches. The line card delivers total non-blocking throughput of more than 1 billion packets per second and reduces power consumption by as much as 70% per port over competitive offerings, Force10 says.

The card allows the ExaScale switch to support up to 1,260 10/100/1000Base-T ports in a single chassis, or 630 in a half-rack configuration. Pricing starts at $60,000 and it will be available in June.

This story, "Data center 10G whets switching companies appetites" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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