Force10 taking data centers into zettabyte era

Force10 first with 40/100G density for data centers

Force10 Networks this week will unveil data center core and top-of-rack switches that mark the first offering of high-density 40/100G Ethernet among the major switch vendors.

The switches are designed to take data center customers into the zettabyte era, according to Force10. The company's current generation high-end core offerings, the E-Series, are tuned to exabyte-scale networks. (An exabyte is 1 million terabytes, or 1 billion gigabytes, whereas a zettabyte is 1,000 exabytes.)

For the core, Force10 is rolling out the Z-Series ZettaScale line of switches, which are designed to offer users a choice between a centralized and a distributed core network.

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For the centralized core, Force10's Z9512 chassis-based switch delivers 400Gbps per slot of switching capacity in a 12-slot, half-rack chassis. It offers 480 line-rate, non-blocking 10G Ethernet ports -- leapfrogging Arista Networks' AN 7500 switch, the previous wire-rate 10G density leader at 384 ports -- and also offers 96 line-rate, non-blocking 40G and 48 line-rate, non-blocking 100G Ethernet ports.

This makes Force10 the only major switching vendor to have announced substantial 40/100G Ethernet densities on a switch versus a small port count expansion uplink module, which Extreme, Alcatel-Lucent and others, including Force10, have already announced.

The Z9512 also features a 9.6Tbps backplane, sub-5 microsecond latency and an 8-Gigabit packet buffer for each of its 12 line cards. Future line cards will support 800 Gigabits per slot, Force10 says.

The switch is designed for aggregation of flat Layer 2 topologies, or aggregation of hierarchical Layer 3 topologies as well as for multi-service deployments incorporating Gigabit Ethernet, 10G, 40G and 100G Ethernet.

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Force10's Z9000 distributed switch is designed for "containerized" data center cores, where cloud data centers are geographically distributed. The Z9000 sports 32 40G Ethernet ports or 128 10G Ethernet ports into a 2 RU form factor. It features a 2.5 terabit full-duplex backplane capacity, scales from 2 to 160 terabits in a distributed core architecture, and features 3 microsecond latency.

At 800 watts, the Z9000 consumes 1/20 as much power as competitive products, Force10 says. And in addition to containerized data center cores, the Z9000 is also targeted at end-of-row applications in the data center, Force10 says.

Any of the Z9000 switches can be taken out of service without bringing down the core network, Force10 says. The more switches in the distributed architecture, the lower the impact of any one switch going offline, the company claims.

Both new core switches are "hardware ready" for the IEEE's Data Center Bridging and the IETF's Transparent Interconnection of Lots of Links (TRILL) standards (See "Industry split on data center network standards"). These standards are designed for lossless Ethernet switching and shortest path multihop routing, respectively, in data center networks.

The Z9000 switch will list for $175,000 and will be available in July. The Z9512 switch will be available in the second half of 2011 and pricing will be configuration dependent, but Force10 officials say 10G will be below $4,000 list, and 40G around $5,500 list.

Force10's top-of-rack switch

For the top-of-rack, Force10 unveiled the S7000 Open Cloud Switch. This is a 2RU device featuring 64 non-blocking 10G Ethernet ports. It can also be configured with four 40G ports, 36 10G ports and 12 10G, or 1/2/4/8Gbps FibreChannel ports. The S7000 also incorporates TRILL, User Port Stacking, and Virtual Link Trunking (VLT), Data Center Bridging and FibreChannel-over-Ethernet.

The S7000 can be configured as an FCoE transit switch or FCoE gateway, Force10 says.

VLT is a link aggregation group (LAG) technique that provides Layer 2 multi-pathing between access network devices -- switches or servers -- and the core network. It provides a loopfree topology with active-active load sharing of uplinks from access to the core, eliminating the requirement for spanning tree protocols.

User port stacking is a feature where multiple switches are connected to make them look like a single switch. The stacked switches can be managed as a unit.

The S7000 also includes an optional appliance module for adding functions such as load balancing, firewalling, packet sniffing and caching, eliminating the need for external devices for those functions.

The S7000 Open Cloud Switch will be available in the second half of 2011.

Force10 is also rolling out Release 2.0 of its Open Automation Framework software, which offers a development environment and scripting languages for automating the operation of its switches within a data center. It is designed for use with Force10's FTOS switch operating system.

Among the features of Open Automation Framework 2.0 are a unified fabric manager that allows data center managers to control multiple Force10 switches as if they are a single switch. It also includes a new GUI interface into switch/router configuration.

The software automates port configuration, and includes support for the IEEE's 802.1Qbg standard for enabling interaction between physical switches in the network and virtual switches on servers. This will allow Force10 switches to automate the assignment of virtual machines to specific VLANs, among other functions.

Force10's new switches and software will go up against Cisco's Nexus/FabricPath line, Juniper's QFabric strategy and switches, Brocade's Brocade One products, Arista's 7000 series switches, Avaya's VENA architecture, Alcatel-Lucent's "Application Fluent" switches, and platforms from Enterasys and Extreme, as well as HP's VirtualConnect server/storage/switching and virtualization architecture, as well as HP's switches.

Some analysts believe Force10's latest offerings may win some converts, or at least appeal to users beyond the company's installed base.

"We see more and more organizations kicking the tires on alternative vendors," says Jon Oltsik, principal analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. "There is a niche market that always want the fastest or highest density box and are willing to plug in new hardware to get this. Force 10 is innovating to get a seat at the table in these markets. Given the networking transitions in play today, Force 10 technology could get it in the door if it can get its name in the right organization's hands."

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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