Alcatel-Lucent takes up data center arms against Cisco, others

Fleshes out Application Fluent Network architecture with low latency Ethernet switches, meshes and pods

Cisco and other data center network combatants best prepare for an onslaught of meshes and pods.

Alcatel-Lucent this week is fleshing out its Application Fluent Network (AFN) architecture to better help customers optimize their data center fabrics for the applications running on top of them. The company will also unveil a new data center switch and management application to enable and control AFN.

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Although Alcatel-Lucent had just a 1.2% share of the $21 billion Ethernet switching market in 2010, according to Dell'Oro Group, the company has grand ambitions in the new data center market. Last fall it launched the AFN architecture, and now it is elaborating on components of it, namely the Virtual Network Profile (vNP), Pod and Mesh.

The vNP enables IT shops to manage applications as services by enhancing the network's application awareness.

Supported in the OmniSwitch 6850E and a new Alcatel-Lucent 10G Ethernet top-of-rack offering called the OmniSwitch 6900, vNP allows the switches to enforce defined application profiles to prioritize, establish quality-of-service, attach security parameters and provision appropriate bandwidth and capacity for specific applications. This is intended to ready the network, applications and data center customer for eventual public, private or hybrid cloud-based service, in which the network is tuned to execute the application even though it may reside on a server hundreds or thousands of miles away from its target user.

The AFN Mesh comprises active Gigabit Ethernet and 10G Ethernet links between vNP-enabled top-of-rack switches and an Alcatel-Lucent OmniSwitch 10000 in the core. Currently, the AFN mesh incorporates the IEEE's Multi-Chassis Link Aggregation (MC-LAG) specification to inverse multiplex traffic over Ethernet links that terminate on multiple switch chassis.

MC-LAG is intended to replace the Ethernet Spanning Tree Protocol in the AFN architecture to improve resiliency and uptime, and reduce latency. It prepares the Alcatel-Lucent switches for successors to MC-LAG that are defined specifically for Ethernet data center fabrics, such as the IEEE's Data Center Bridging, Shortest Path Bridging and Ethernet Virtual Bridging specifications, as well as ANSI's FibreChannel-over-Ethernet standard, Alcatel-Lucent says.

All that, combined with 40/100G Ethernet switch-to-switch links, creates the AFN Enterprise Mesh. Within that mesh are AFN Pods, 10G meshes of 6900 switches with 2 microsecond latency. Four such Pods could connect to two OmniSwitch 10000s in the enterprise core over 40G Ethernet links to configure a mesh supporting 14,400 server ports and 169Tbps switching capacity across 10 48-unit racks with a latency of 5 microseconds, Alcatel-Lucent says.

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In a 10G mesh with 6,000 server-facing ports, Alcatel-Lucent claims lower server-to-server latency than Cisco Nexus, Juniper EX, HP and Brocade data center switching schemes, but not lower than Juniper's new QFabric line. However, Alcatel-Lucent does claim lower latency than QFabric when AFN is configured in a 40G mesh.

The company also claims a significant switching capacity lead over QFabric, Cisco Nexus, HP, Brocade and Avaya with just two core switches. Alcatel-Lucent says Cisco would have to compile a core of 48 Nexus switches to reach 160Tbps of switching capacity.

New Alcatel-Lucent OmniSwitch and management software

A key component of that AFN scale is the OmniSwitch 6900, a 1RU device available in 20- or 40-port configurations, with two expansion slots for additional port modules. Those modules can add another 12 10G ports per slot, for an extra 24 10G ports per switch.

The 6900 features up to 1.28Tbps of capacity, 960Mpps of forwarding performance, sub-microsecond latency, 128,000 MAC addresses, and 3.5 watts per 10G port.

For managing the 6900, and AFN Pods and Mesh, Alcatel-Lucent unveiled the OmniVista 2500 Virtual Machine Manager (VMM). VMM is designed to provide an integrated dashboard of switches, ports, hypervisors and virtual machines, with live and historical tracking and logging.

VMM logs the bindings between the VM and the vNP and tracks migration of the vNP to a new switch, including security and QoS parameters, VLAN configuration and other additions, deletions and moves, Alcatel-Lucent says.

VMM works with VMware vCenter, Microsoft Hyper-V Server, Xen and KVM hypervisors.

VMM and the OmniSwitch 6900 will be available later this quarter. The 6900 costs $28,000 for the 40-port configuration.

A three-port 40G module for the switch will come in the fall, as will support for Data Center Bridging, Shortest Path Bridging and FCoE. The 40G module will cost $5,000, not including optics.

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