Force10's third new switch is the S7000, a 2U top-of-rack switch with up to 64 10-Gbit Ethernet or Fibre Channel ports and four embedded appliance module bays. FC support enables the switch to function as a gateway between Ethernet and FC storage networks, while the appliance modules can be used for applications, management software, or hardware offload.
The only appliance module currently available is a standard server, which Joyent is using to host cloud services, but Force10 plans other options such as SSL acceleration or field programmable gate array (FPGA) network processors. Applications can either use the FPGA hardware or run on the standard server modules inside virtual appliances, with the usual tradeoff between FPGA speed and virtual appliance simplicity. Force10 says that the FPGA is particularly attractive to customers in the financial industry, claiming they can process trades a small fraction of a second faster by eliminating the round-trip latency between switch and server.
To coordinate all this, Force10 is updating its Open Automation management system. Planned for fall 2011, Open Automation 2.0 adds an improved user interface, an online script repository, and support for IEEE .8021Qbg, one of two proposed standards for synchronizing virtual machines with the virtual networks that tie them together--critical in a large cloud that may have hundreds of VMs flying around between data centers. Originally proposed by HP, .8021Qbg is also supported by most other vendors including Cisco Systems, though it won't be fully standardized for at least a year.
According to Baher, a belief in open standards like .8021Qbg is an important differentiator for Force10, and one that will become more important as cloud computing grows within the enterprise. "Open Cloud Networking is part philosophy, part product and technology," he said, claiming that it is a contrast to proprietary hooks in competitors Cisco FabricPath and Juniper QFabric."Our competitors have pre-selected the ecosystem that they work with, but we want to give customers more choice in terms of processor, OS, and hypervisor. And we don't say you need an all-Force10 solution."
This is driven partly by necessity, of course--a smaller vendor like Force10 has to play very well with others--but there's no denying that virtualization and cloud computing do make interoperability even more important. The problem is that vendor alliances exist partly for customers' convenience, so avoiding a pre-selected ecosystem can mean more work.
"This is certainly one of the issues," Bayer admitted, "but you weigh this against how much you value choice. It's more valuable for us to deliver customer-driven architectures."