Force10 Gets Dense

Force10 unveiled its new line cards to boost switch density and slash costs

November 1, 2005

3 Min Read
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With users looking to support growing volumes of servers and storage in their data centers, high density 10-Gbit/s switches are being touted as a way to tie all this technology together. Today, for example, Force10 Networks Inc. unveiled a family of new 8- and 16-port 10-Gbit/s line cards to boost the density of its E-Series switch/routers. (See Force10 Reduces Prices.)

By increasing the number of ports offered on the devices, users can hook more and more servers and storage together and then scale up and down as resources are needed.

But Force10 is not the only vendor looking to bag density bragging rights. Rival Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY), for example, recently unveiled its new RX-16 switch, offering up to 64 ports of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, eight more than Force10 previously offered on its E1200. (See Foundry Flashes New Hardware and Force10 Does the Density Dance.)

Now its Forc10’s turn to do the density dance. The new line cards push the E1200’s density from 56 to a whopping 244 ports. But who needs it?

Once upon a time, it was top secret government labs that needed this type of 10-Gbit/s port density. Now, in Force10's view, it's changed. “That clustering that started in the likes of the Lawrence Livermore National Lab has now moved to the data center of large corporations,” says Andrew Feldman, Force10’s vice president of marketing.But there’s a trade-off. Force10’s new cards are not line-rate, which means that running all the ports at full wire speed could result in lost packets. Still, Feldman insists Force 10's new line cards could slash the cost of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, even if full loading presents a challenge.

Traditionally, 10-Gbit/s stackable switches have offered a much cheaper price per port than chassis-based devices such as the E1200. Force10 is now looking to level this playing field. (See Foundry Drops 10-GigE Prices and Cisco Bombs 10-GigE Pricing.)

With the new 16-port line card, the E1200’s price per port will be around $2,700, says Feldman, significantly less than the $7,500 per port offered on the line-rate 56-port version of the E1200.

In contrast, Foundry’s 64-port RX-16, however, does run at wire speed, according to Bob Schiff, the vendor’s vice president of product marketing. The price per port on Foundry’s line-rate 64-port RX-16 is $4,000.

Although he was unable to name names, Feldman confirmed that Force10 has some beta customers “doing big clusters” with the new line cards.Terry Hewitt, director of research computing at the University of Manchester in the U.K, says that falling costs are making 10 Gbit/s an increasingly viable proposition, particularly in high performance computing.

“There will be quite a lot of interest in 10-Gbit/s Ethernet because it is starting to get competitive with the proprietary interconnects on offer from the likes of Silicon Graphics, Cray, Hewlett-Packard, and Sun Microsystems,” he explains.

But the IT director warned that 10-Gbit/s Ethernet is no panacea. “The latency on the 10 Gbit/s is probably not as good as the latency on the proprietary interconnects for high performance computing. But for enterprise data centers latency is not really the important issue -- it’s more about reliability, robustness, and bandwidth.”

This, he says, is why 10 Gbit/s will increasingly make its presence felt in the enterprise, where “the requirements for bandwidth are increasing.”

Foundry and Force10 are not the only vendors making a song and dance about 10 Gbit/s at the moment. Startup Neterion Inc., for example, today signed an OEM deal with IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)for its 10-Gbit/s Ethernet adapters. (See Neterion, IBM Ink Deal .)Force 10’s new 16-port and 8-port line cards will be available in mid-December.

— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-Gen Data Center Forum

Companies mentioned in this story:

Force10 Networks Inc.

Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY)Lawrence Livermore National Lab

Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) (NYSE: SGI)

Cray Inc. (Nasdaq: CRAY)

Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW)Neterion Inc.

IBM Corp.

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