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Force 10 Lays Out Standards-Based Next Generation Networking Vision

Force 10 is the latest networking vendor to announce a comprehensive vision for data center networking. Dubbed Open Cloud Networking, the idea is to use standard protocols to interconnect networking gear paired with their Open Automation capabilities, and offer integration and interoperation with network management and systems orchestration management servers. The company's announcement includes additional automation features and new hardware to support the vision. Force 10 is not the first to the table, nor is its vision as grand as Cisco's or Juniper's, but the focus on standards support should resonate with companies that rely on multiple vendors.

Unlike other industry giants' data center networking programs--such as Brocade's Virtual Chassis Switch announced November 2010, Cisco's FabricPath and Juniper's QFabric announced in February--Force 10's Open Cloud Networking relies on standard protocols for data center bridging and multipath Ethernet using Transparent Interconnection of Lots of Links (TRILL) and Edge Virtual Bridging (EVB) defined by 802.1Qbg, which relies on switch hardware to forward Ethernet frames to their destination. Force 10 isn't going to offer a standards-based multipath Ethernet protocol nor a proprietary one like Cisco's FabricPath or Brocade's VCS. The company also isn't offering a proprietary backplane technology like Juniper's QFabric. Rather, Force 10's focus is to support standards only, which is a benefit for organizations that have multivendor networks. Given Force 10's relatively small market share, integrating with networking vendors that have more market share is a good way to get a toe in the door.

In support of OCN, Force 10 also announced new switch models. The Z9000 is a 2RU switch designed to aggregate 32 of 40 Gigabit Ethernet ports or 128 of 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports in a non-blocking fashion up to 160Tbps. Its bigger brother, the Z9512, which is a 19U core switch with 9.6Tbps capacity, will be available in the latter half of 2011. The S7000 is a top-of-rack switch supporting 36 1/10 Gigabit Ethernet ports, 12 1/2/4/8G FC/10GbE ports and four 40GbE ports and 1.28Tbps. The combination of the Z9000 and S7000 can be used to form a leaf and spine layout, where the switch capacity is bisected, with half the capacity facing servers and the other half going upstream to the spine. The S7000 also contains four slots of application modules that provide CPU, RAM and disk for applications on the switch itself.

Force10 is backing OCN with its Open Automation 2.0, which builds on the company's Open Automation, announced in November 2010. The company is opening a ScriptStore and developer community, where administrators can distribute scripts similar to the way in which apps are made available for mobile phones. The goal is to increase user involvement and foster a community of users who can share their scripts with others. Open Automation also includes the first iteration of a unified fabric manager, which can be used to log in to any switch via the CLI and manage all of the integrated switches in a virtual chassis. Currently only available for the Z9000, Force10 hopes to extend the unified fabric manager to its entire switch line. Force 10 is clearly reacting to the buzz Juniper has drummed up around its "one OS" message of the last few years. Regardless, simplifying switch management is a benefit to administrators who have to log in to multiple switches repeatedly. It also makes scripting easier.

For more on data center networking, check out Research: Data Center Convergence on Networking Computing Pro [[subscription required]].