Force10 Does the Density Dance

The bragging rights for line-card density are up for grabs again

April 26, 2005

2 Min Read
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Being dense has never been sexy. But Force10 Networks Inc. says being dense is a badge of honor in the Ethernet switching and routing market as users look to hook more and more servers up to their core data center devices.

The Milpitas, Calif.-based firm today unveiled a new 90-port line card for its E-Series 1200 and E-Series 600 switch/routers. Until now, Force10s largest line card offered 48 ports, the same as Cisco Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: CSCO) offering in this space. For its part, Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR) offers a 60-port line card and ten total slots on its BlackDiamond 10K switch.

”It’s all about the guy with the biggest fish,” explains Steven Schuchart, senior analyst for enterprise infrastructure at Current Analysis, who actually means "company" when he says "guy" and "most dense Ethernet line cards" when he says "biggest fish."

So, how dense is Force10's latest effort? Here's one comparison: Cisco’s Catalyst 6509 device offers a total of eight slots for its own 48-port line cards. The new Force10 line card, however, when used with the 14-slot E1200, pushes the device’s maximum port density up from 672 total ports to a whopping 1,260 ports, not including two additional slots for redundancy and management.

Analyst Schuchart says the point of all that density is to cut down costs in the data center. “It could save users from having to buy another chassis,” he says.Zeus Kerravalla, the godlike VP of analyst firm Yankee Group agrees: “That’s a big line card with a lot of ports. If you are someone who values density in the data center, then it’s a very compelling product to look at.”

But high-density cards such as this are not appropriate for every data center application. Andrew Feldman, Force10's VP of marketing, says that running all the ports at full speed through the new, non-line-rate cards could result in some dropped packets.

Schuchart suggests the new card could be a good fit for connecting a plethora of lower-activity servers. Markets where this could prove useful include the likes of scientific research, such as geophysical surveys, he says.

Force10 assault on the high end of the data center is interesting given all the noise the company has made lately about broadening its low-end product line (see Argonne Picks Force10 and Force 10 Aims for the Data Center). ”Their challenge is to become broader,” says Kerravalla. “Their long-term viability will be dictated by whether they can sell more products to their customers and broaden their product line.”

— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-gen Data Center Forum0

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