Force10 Aims 100-Gbit Ethernet Switch At Clouds

Open Cloud Networking Framework also features a converged virtualization switch and a boost to the Open Automation management system.

Andy Dornan

April 27, 2011

4 Min Read
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Force10 Networks is launching three new switches and upgrading its management features as part of a strategy it calls the Open Cloud Networking Framework. The switches include two in its new Z-Series designed for high-density 10 Gigabit Ethernet and 100-Gbit Ethernet, and the S7000, a top-of-rack 10-Gbit Ethernet and Fibre Channel (FC) switch with optional embedded servers.

Force10 claims that its open framework will improve interoperability and increase customer choice, something necessary if networks are to play their part in a cloud. "Networking still has a proprietary feel," said Jeff Baher, senior director of product marketing. "We want to bring the open culture of the compute world to networking."

Force10 is most excited about its Z-Series ZettaScale core switches, which theoretically lead the industry in performance density by packing more than a terabit per second (Tbit/s) of switching capacity into each 1U of rack space.

First up is the Z9000, a 2U box with 128 10-Gbit Ethernet ports planned to go on sale in July for $175,000. Unlike most switches with such large capacity, this one is only available in a fixed configuration, something Force10 said makes it simpler to deploy. The idea is that the (relatively) low price point means organizations can overprovision if they initially need less capacity than the Z9000 offers, while support for a leaf-and-spine topology makes it scalable to larger networks.

Each Z9000 can act as either a leaf or a spine, with a maximum cluster size of 64 spines and 128 leaves for a total core capacity of 160 Tbit/s. The leaves and spines can be clustered together or spread out geographically in a "distributed core," necessary for cloud computing.

Force10's banner customer is cloud service provider Joyent, but it's aiming the distributed architecture at enterprises too; even organizations which aren't yet ready to offload their data to cloud service providers can still gain many of its benefits by rolling out cloud technology internally. "We see a lot of enterprises deploying this," said Baher, "It's not just for the Googles of the world."

The other product in the Z-Series is the Z9512, a 19U chassis-based device that will offer 9.6 Tbit/s split between any combination of 480 10-Gbit Ethernet ports, 96 40-Gbit Ethernet ports, or 48 100-Gbit Ethernet ports. The switch's backplane is capable of supporting up to 1 Tbit/s of capacity in each of its 12 slots, but initial cards will be limited to 400-Gbit/second with 1 Tbit/s cards planned for future. Force10 hasn't disclosed exact pricing or shipping dates, saying only that the switch is due in fall 2011.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."

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