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Life in the Really Fast Lane

Finally, after much preparation, we sent invitations to Alcatel, Cisco Systems, Enterasys Networks, Extreme Networks, Force10 Networks, Foundry Networks, Hewlett-Packard Co. and Nortel Networks. When push came to shove, though, only Extreme and Foundry rose to the challenge. Alcatel did not have product, while Cisco, Force10, HP and Nortel simply declined to participate. Enterasys offers a standalone 10-gigabit Layer 2 switch that did not meet the requirements of our tests, even though it reportedly had been updated with an 802.3ae-compatible interface.

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Extreme's BlackDiamond and Foundry's BigIron proved that there are at least two companies that offer serious 802.3ae-based connectivity--and are ready to put their switches where their advertising claims are. Not only did the BlackDiamond and BigIron boxes interoperate with the standard and each other, they maintained impressive performance levels even when subjected to tests their competitors ducked. And they offer a wide range of features--from high availability to support for all major routing protocols to multicast routing and QoS (Quality of Service). We were impressed.

Unlike that of Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet, true 10 Gigabit Ethernet performance isn't a given. We're not yet at the point where chips providing Layer 2 and Layer 3 forwarding at wire speed are readily available, and you must factor in features, such as access lists and QoS, that require even more processing power for every packet sent. And beaucoup packets are being sent--wire speed for 10 Gigabit Ethernet makes it possible to forward 30 million per second on each interface versus 3 million for gigabit.

Of course, these hurdles haven't stopped many vendors from shipping 10-gigabit products; we can only speculate about why it stopped them from participating in our tests.

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