10-GigE Price Drops Continue

Price wars rage on as Foundry announces new switches and Extreme prepares new 10-Gig add-ons

March 16, 2004

4 Min Read
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The price of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet continues to drop, as Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY) today announced 10-Gbit/s ports for its FastIron line of modular switches.

The company's new FES-X series of Gigabit Ethernet boxes can be outfitted with two ports of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, at a price of about $3,250 per port. That figure one-ups Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR), which announced $4,000 per port for the 10-Gbit/s option on its Summit 400 switch (see Foundry Boosts 10-Gig Plans and Extreme Switch Adds 10-GigE).

These are smaller switches, measuring one or two rack units, as opposed to large routers such as Cisco Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: CSCO) Catalyst 6500, Extreme's BlackDiamond 10000, and Foundry's NetIron 40G. Cisco is still the price leader there, having announced a four-port card that brought per-port 10-Gbit/s Ethernet prices down to about $5,000, or $12,000 with a necessary daughter card (see Cisco Bombs 10-GigE Pricing).

The recent Foundry and Extreme announcements compete more with Cisco's Catalyst 3750. Cisco officials declined to comment on future plans for the product line, but the 3750 appears to have fallen behind, as it lacks a 10-Gbit/s option. Moreover, it scales to only 24 ports of Gigabit Ethernet, compared with 48 for Extreme's Summit 400 and Foundry's FES-X.

"Extreme has an advantage with its stackable line over Cisco at this point, and [FES-X] should give Foundry an advantage on the modular side," says Erik Suppiger, analyst with Pacific Growth Equities Inc.Cisco still has time to cram in a product announcement. Foundry's FES-X boxes won't be available until April, and, while Extreme's Summit 400 began shipments at the end of February, the 10-Gbit/s optics for the box won't ship until later this month.

The primary application for 10-Gbit/s Ethernet is to aggregate multiple Gigabit Ethernet feeds for forwarding deeper into the network. So far, switch owners have had to do this aggregation by having ports share a 1-Gbit/s uplink, an oversubscription technique that works but that gets risky if traffic gets heavy.

The assumption is that as Gigabit Ethernet catches on, those 1-Gbit/s uplinks will get overwhelmed, forcing customers to buy more equipment. "Depending on how they're using [a switch], they may need to double the number of modules" to get enough uplink bandwidth, says Bob Schiff, director of marketing for Foundry's enterprise business unit.

Some oversubscription is normal for Ethernet, because not every port is carrying its maximum traffic flow all the time. Just look at the new Extreme and Foundry boxes: 48 ports of Gigabit Ethernet crammed into the 20-Gbit/s output offered by two 10-Gbit/s Ethernet ports. "Historical oversubscription ratios have been in that ballpark," says Varun Nagaraj, vice president of product management for Extreme.

For now, it appears 10-Gbit/s Ethernet isn't urgently needed in most enterprises and data centers, but it's probably a requirement on buyers' checklists. "I don't think customers are experiencing a great deal of traffic congestion, but I think they're more comfortable buying something that's upgradeable over the long term," Suppiger says.One quirk of Foundry's FES-X boxes is the use of XFP modules for the optics. XFP creates a serial 10-Gbit/s link, as opposed to the four-lane interface of more common modules such as Xenpak. The industry is expected to use XFP eventually but has stuck with the four-lane architecture because semiconductors can't handle 10-Gbit/s speeds yet. For now, XFP interfaces require a chip that splits the signal into four channels of 3.125-Gbit/s each.

XFP is a smaller design, as dictated by the multisource agreement (MSA). It's also better suited for the metro network, one of the FES-X's target markets.

"XFP provides a more complete design. Some of the other [transceiver module MSAs] are more designed for shorter distances," Foundry's Schiff says.

Last year, module vendors thought XFP might take off more quickly than expected, but much of that demand was to come from storage vendors jumping to 10-Gbit/s Fibre Channel for storage area networks (SANs). The advent of a 4-Gbit/s Fibre Channel generation has diluted those expectations (see XFP No Longer a BFD).

Foundry's FES X424, with 24 ports of Gigabit Ethernet, is due to ship in April, with XFP modules available that month as well. The 48-port version, the FES X448, is expected to ship in June. The models cost $5,495 and $7,995, respectively.Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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