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Force10 Enhances Open Automation Framework With SmartScripts And HyperLink

Force10 is announcing SmartScripts, which lets administrators write and run scripts on Force10 switches. The company is also announcing HyperLink, which integrates Force10 switches with hypervisors. Both features are part of Force10's Open Automation Framework initiative announced in March, 2010. SmartScripts and Hyperlink streamline switch management by automating the many tedious network management tasks. Automation is foundational for getting the most out of a virtualized data center design.

Force10 is announcing SmartScripts, which lets administrators write and run scripts on Force10 switches. The company is also announcing HyperLink, which integrates Force10 switches with hypervisors. Both features are part of Force10's Open Automation Framework initiative announced in March, 2010. SmartScripts and Hyperlink streamline switch management by automating the many tedious network management tasks. Automation is foundational for getting the most out of a virtualized data center design. Automation features for switch management and systems integration can also reduce human error.

SmartScripts is Force10's foray into on-switch scripting. The goal is to automate switch management functions based on events such as an increase in dropped Ethernet frames that crosses a defined threshold or time of day. On-switch scripting is not new. Cisco NX-OS and Extreme XOS, for example, both support scripting. Force10 supports Perl and Python, both of which are popular and easy to use.  With SmartScripts, administrators can execute any switch command, including commands to get switch statistics and set configurations. Scripts can store variables in memory, up to 1/5 GB is available, though that amount might shrink for other purposes, so that you can track information over time.

Unfortunately, SmartScripts doesn't have any built-in function calls or native API calls to query the switch for statistics. To gather dropped frames, the administrator would have to run the appropriate command, capture the output, and then use pattern matching or some other means to capture the dropped frame count. Anyone who has built screen scrape programs will know that perfecting the pattern matching is very difficult and using offsets--capturing text based on a starting point and ending point in a string--is error prone. Native APIs or function libraries that provide an interface with the Force10 Operating Systems (FTOS) would be much more robust. Force10 did say native APIs are planned, but didn't have a time frame. Force10 is also planning on allowing users to add their own Perl or Python libraries in a future release which will make SmartScripts that much more useful.

Force10's HyperLink integrates with VMwares vSphere 4.0 and 4.1 and Citrix Xen 5.6, with additional hypervisors from vendors like Oracle and Microsoft planned for a future release. Hyperlink switches integrate directly with the as many as eight different hypervisor managers and the  correlates switch ports, hypervisor servers, and virtual machines. Once a move begins, the source and destination switches know which switch ports each hypervisor servers is attached to  and ensures VLANs are moved in the proper sequence to ensure that connectivity isn't lost. Direct switch-to-hypervisor integration (which Arista Networks, and now Force10, support)is simpler than involving a management station. Support for both VMware and Citrix furthers Force10's claim to be vendor agnostic.

SmartScripts and HyperLink will be available in Q4 2010 for Force10's newer switches such as the S60, S55, S4810, and newer models. Older switch models won't be supported. Both features will be bundled together.  Force10 didn't have pricing information ready. We'll be sure to follow up.

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