Force10 Goes Terabit

It's got a terabit-capacity switch/router with 672 GigE ports... but does the market need it?

September 13, 2004

4 Min Read
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Force10 Networks Inc. today introduced a new high-end Ethernet switch/router that it says doubles any existing port capacity and supports total throughput as high as 1.6 terabits.

The new Force10 TeraScale E-Series switches are based on a new ASIC designed by Force10 and built by IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)using its Cu-11 technology, a 130-nanometer chip design for high-end applications. Force10 says the new product supports 672 line-rate gigabit Ethernet ports and 56 line-rate 10-gigabit Ethernet ports in one chassis. The Milpitas, Calif.-based switch maker claims this is twice the port density of its nearest competitor.

Andrew Feldman, Force10's vice president of marketing, calls it "the largest routing device ever made."

Yes, that's a tall claim -- but so far, after checking with several competitors, there's nobody refuting it. With the product, Force10 says it's going after a new market of high-end data centers where better port density is needed to save space and power.

Is the market out there? It may take some time to develop. Analysts say such a high density would provide a lot more power than a typical corporate customer would need. For now, the TeraScale E-Series could appeal to a select group of data centers with more demanding applications, such as the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC), the research unit of the University of California at San Diego. The center deployed the TeraScale E-Series about six weeks ago.It replaces the previous generation of Force10 we were using. It lets us coalesce four switches into one,” says Nathaniel Mendoza, the center’s network engineer.

The backplane of the TeraScale E-Series has a capacity of 5 terabits per second. This allows network operators to add capacity to their networks when ASIC technology is upgraded, without changing the chassis or the backplane.

On the competive front, the product appears to give Force10 bragging rights in the Ethernet switching department.

Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY) says its highest performance switch is the BigIron MG8. This switch supports up to 480 Gigabit Ethernet ports in a single system and 1,440 Gigabit Ethernet ports in a standard 7-foot rack. The switch uses the new 60-port GigE (over copper) modules, which will be shipping at the end of the month, says a Foundry spokeswoman .

The BigIron MG8 supports configurations up to 32 wire-speed 10-Gigabit Ethernet ports in a single system.Foundry, however, downplays the need for higher speeds and feeds, saying most service providers aren't looking for such high capacity.

“When you start putting too many ports in a chassis then customers get wary of that, wary of putting everything into one basket,” says Bill Ryan, one of Foundry's product managers. “High density is for a limited market. We don’t see it so much in the service provider space. Many are hesitant to go up that high.”

Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR)another competitor, says its BlackDiamond 10808 switch supports up to 48 10-gigabit ports and 480 gigabit ports. Its BlackDiamond 6816 switch supports 16 10-Gigabit Ethernet ports.

Analysts say Force10's next step may be scaling up its bulk and resources, as it's still private and smaller than most of its competitors.

“The issue for Force10 is service and support,” says David Willis, a senior analyst at Meta Group Inc. “They have had success in high-end computing, but they are not that well known. The first thing they have to do is convince people: Why not Cisco? And then why Force10?“It’s a specialized device they are offering and would require specialized training, and you would have a limited number of companies which could offer support."

Force10 claims the demand for high-bandwidth applications will drive the need for greater network capacity. It says the next generation of Ethernet technology is 100-Gigabit Ethernet, and it's now got the only switch that is "100 Gig-ready" today.

At least one analyst agrees the new product's numbers will reinforce its position as a cutting-edge Ethernet switch player.

“This will position them as a top contender in the 10-gigabit niche," says International Data Corp analyst Max Flisi. "But the 10-gig market is still small and new, and we’re not forecasting any widespread adoption right now."

— Joanna Sabatini, Reporter, Light Reading0

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