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Mellanox Makes SDN Move with New Switches

Mellanox Technologies is making its software-defined networking (SDN) play with the latest version of its SwitchX, positioning it as a fast and affordable alternative to offerings from Arista Networks and Cisco.

SwitchX-2, available now, supports OpenFlow and can interact with SDN controllers. The company did not disclose the specific controllers it supports, but it says it has performed interoperability tests with commercial controllers currently available. It also includes support for overlay networks using either VXLAN or MVGRE.

SwitchX-2 is available in several configurations: 36-port 40/56 GbE and 64-port 10 GbE L2, L2+ and L3 switches, as well as 48-port 10 GbE and 12-port 40 GbE top-of-rack switches. It also offers a blade configuration for converged fabrics. Mellanox's VPI SDN switch includes a Unified Fabric Manager for management, load balancing and network scaling, and network virtualization and provisioning

The new switch is based on the company's Virtual Protocol Internet Connect (VPI) technology, which allows InfiniBand, Ethernet and Fibre Channel traffic to exist on a single "one-wire" fabric. InfiniBand isn't widely used in enterprise data centers, though it has found a place in specialized environments that rely on high-performance computing, such as high-frequency trading in the financial industry.

Alan Weckel, VP at the Dell'Oro Group, says Mellanox hopes to build on its InfiniBand success to gain traction in Ethernet switching. Dell'Oro research from August 2012 predicts the Layer 2/3 Ethernet switch market will grow to almost $25 billion by 2016, but Weckel says Mellanox's share of the market is not specifically tracked.

Mellanox touts SwitchX-2's low power consumption and low latency. It also touts its use of Remote Direct Memory Access for both InfiniBand and Ethernet switching. RDMA is a NIC feature that enables one computer to directly place information into the memory of another computer, reducing latency by lowering demands on bandwidth and processing overhead. It has been commonly used in high- performance computing. Mellanox said SwitchX-2 is aimed at enterprises and cloud providers that are looking to create flatter networks.

Mellanox also emphasizes the use of its own silicon in SwitchX-2. Weckel says this does differentiate it from competitors such as Arista, which uses merchant silicon. "Differentiation is more challenging when everyone is using the same engine under the hood," he says. "Mellanox has more opportunity to tweak its own silicon."

Last month Arista launched its 7150S line of switches, which also aim to reduce latency. Cisco introduced its Nexus 3548 switch, which uses custom silicon and employs technology called AlgoBoost to dramatically cut latency.

Pricing for the SwitchX-2 starts at $15,000 for a 36-port, 40/56 GbE configuration.