Ethernet switch vendors prep for 40/100G, more data center virtualization

Arista, Extreme and Force10 announce switches, software and higher bandwidth plans

Three switching vendors this week are unveiling new and enhanced data center products, including for those looking to upgrade to 40Gbps Ethernet in the near future.

Start-up Arista Networks unveiled its first modular 10Gbps switch, which allows the company to claim leadership in wire-speed 10G port density. Force10 Networks had recently laid claim to that title.  

Extreme Networks rolled out software enhancements to allow customers to better manage virtual machines and reduce the number of switching layers, or tiers, in the data center network. And Force10 announced that it will ship 40Gbps Ethernet switches in the second half of this year.

100G Ethernet Cheat Sheet  

The announcements indicate that data center switching continues to be the hottest segment of the switching market as users broaden their use of virtualization. Data centers with thousands of servers, each housing scores of VMs, require increased bandwidth and more granular management to maintain control over the spread of the virtual workload.

Arista is hitting the increased bandwidth requirement with the AN 7500 switch. The chassis-based core switch complements the company's existing 1/10G top-of-rack devices for connecting racks of servers to the data center core.

The eight-slot 7500 is 11 rack-units high with a 10Tbps switching capacity and 384 wire-speed L2/L3 10Gbps Ethernet ports. This surpasses Force10's previous wire-speed 10G density lead with 140 ports in its ExaScale E1200 core switch -- though it claims to support another 420 oversubscribed ports.

The 7500 also features 13 watts of power consumption per port -- or about 25% that of its "greenest" competitor -- and throughput of 5.76 billion packets per second in a single chassis, Arista claims. This kind of performance, along with the 10Tbps switching capacity, will allow the switch to support 40G and 100Gbps Ethernet interfaces in the future.

Arista CEO Jayshree Ullal would not say how far -- or close -- into the future those interfaces will emerge but said the company has 40G modules in its development labs and that they may sport "more than one or two" interfaces.

Theoretically, at 10Tbps, the 7500 could support 250 40G Ethernet ports.

"If it turns out to be the switch they say it is, it's going to have a huge impact on the [high performance computing] market," says Steve Schuchart of Current Analysis. "They could be a game changer."

In addition to the Force10 E-Series, the 7500 will go up against Cisco's Nexus 7010, Juniper's EX8216 and Brocade's MLX-32.

The Arista 7500 starts at $140,000 and a fully configured system is less than $1,200 per wire-speed port, the company says. 

Competitor Extreme is enhancing its current switches with software to help manage the growth of VMs, and reduce the number of switching tiers in a data center.

Extreme's XNV software is designed to allow network administrators to manage the life cycle of VMs. It's an add-on software module to the company's ExtremeXOS operating system and EPICenter management system.

XNV is designed to provide network-level automation and parameters for applying QoS, ACLs, bandwidth rate limiting, and counters and statistics to VMs. It is intended to keep the physical network -- as opposed to virtual switches on blade servers -- in control of VMs as they move from their creation point to their end-of-life. The software provides detailed history, tracking and reporting of VMs as they move throughout the data center, Extreme says, and attaches network access and privilege profiles to them.

XNV software modules will be available in the third quarter with a beginning list price of $3,000 for 20 nodes.

Extreme is also unveiling software designed to offload virtual switching from blade servers and put it back into the physical network. The company's Direct Attach software reduces the number of switching layers in the data center, which simplifies management, monitoring and troubleshooting, and improves performance, Extreme says.

Direct Attach moves VM switching out of the server and into network switches for wire-speed, network-based VM switching, while eliminating the virtual switch layer. Extreme says Direct Attach will interoperate with emerging IEEE 802.1Qbg "VEPA" standard for enabling external switches to perform inter-VM hairpin forwarding of frames, something standard 802.1Q bridges or switches are not designed to do.

Direct Attach will also be available in the third quarter. The software module costs $995 per Ethernet switch.

Also in the second half of the year, Force10 will unveil 40Gbps Ethernet switches to address the increased bandwidth requirements of high performance and cloud computing environments, and virtual data centers. Force10 would not discuss specific details of these products, but said they will stretch "end-to-end" and "edge-to-core," and initially address uplink requirements in 10Gbps Ethernet top-of-rack switches.

The company also said its E-Series and C-Series switches are "40G ready."

"For as long as they've been around, Force10 has tried to be the performance leader," says Zeus Kerravala of The Yankee Group. "They're going to want to be first to 40G then first to 100G as well. There is a need for it, especially with financial guys."

Force10 sees 40G as a fit for data centers because 100G Ethernet, which is now appearing on service provider routers, is currently too expensive for data center deployments. Still, Force10 did not provide per port pricing for 40G. The company said, though, that overall 40G Ethernet pricing will be six to eight times that of 10G when products first begin shipping later this year, but "normalize" to 4x over time.

The IEEE is expected to ratify the 40G/100G Ethernet standard in June.

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