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Advanced switch gear on tap at Interop

Apr 24, 20066 mins

Several Ethernet and application switch vendors plan to announce products at the Interop show next week that are intended to make high-speed network gear more affordable and help users boost application performance and security

On the network side, Alcatel and SMC Networks are set to announce 10/100/1000Mbps switches for midsize and large companies, and Coyote Point, Radware and Stampede Technologies are expected to have new application acceleration products on tap that combine Layer 4-7 switching with traffic shaping, protocol offloading and security features.

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Alcatel’s switch and the SMC offering are further examples of advanced switch features such as Power over Ethernet (PoE), 10/100/1000 Ethernet and 10G becoming more affordable. Triple-speed or 10/100/1000 switch ports with PoE are now priced about the same as 10/100 ports without PoE were two or three years ago, industry observers say.

These LAN technologies are becoming more widely available and mature, and application switch vendors are including more features that go beyond wire-speed Layer 4-7 packet inspection and forwarding. No longer just balancing server loads or inspecting browser cookies, switch gear now includes such features as TCP/IP offloading, intrusion detection, and tools that accelerate service-oriented architecture (SOA) and Web 2.0-like applications.

These vendors are all slated to attend next week’s Interop conference and expo, and will be among the 330 exhibitors and 18,000 attendees expected at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

Alcatel, making its first enterprise product announcement since its merger with Lucent, plans to offer 24- and 48-port 10/100/1000 switches with options for PoE and 10G Ethernet uplinks for connecting to a LAN core or aggregation layer. The OmniSwitch 6850 series switches can be bought with or without PoE, which costs an additional $20 to $40 per port (for 24- and 48-port boxes, respectively), and comes with a beefier power supply and external power-shelf module. Optional 10G Ethernet ports use XFP pluggable form-factor modules and range from $2,000 to $4,000 per port.

The 6850 switch can support IPv4 and IPv6 traffic. It supports basic Layer 3 switching out of the box, but a $1,000 software upgrade adds routing protocols.

More than 200 OmniSwitch 6850 switches are being deployed as part of a sweeping network upgrade at ViaHealth, a Rochester, N.Y., healthcare management company that includes Rochester General Hospital. The hospital currently has older-generation Alcatel switches, and is putting in the new boxes to support its simultaneous wireless LAN (WLAN) rollout and bandwidth needs that have grown beyond 10/100 Ethernet.

“Our current switched network was about 7 years old, so it was time for an upgrade,” says Donna VanHousen, senior director of information services and technology at ViaHealth. Plus, she says, “our applications are requiring more bandwidth and features.”

The hospital’s Picture Archiving and Communications System for handling digital radiology images is one reason for adding Gigabit to the network, she says. As the hospital brings up more than 300 Nortel/Trapeze WLAN access points, PoE on the Alcatel switches also will give the IT staff more flexibility in positioning access points.

The 6860 series competes with Cisco’s Catalyst 3750 and 3Com’s SuperStack III, as well as switches from Foundry Networks, Extreme Networks and Nortel, and is priced starting at $4,000.

SMC also is offering a new 10/100/1000 switch without PoE or 10G Ethernet that’s targeted at midsize enterprises. The SMC8024L2 includes 20 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports and security features such as 802.1x port authentication, access control list support and Radius authentication. Traffic management features include 802.1q virtual LAN tagging, and 802.1v protocol-based VLANs, which can segregate various application types on different virtual LAN segments.

Application acceleration gear

Several application acceleration products also are scheduled to launch next week. Radware, Coyote Point and Stampede Technologies are expected to add gear to a market Gartner says topped the $1 billion mark last year.

Radware plans to launch its Application Switch 5 (AS5), a box that supports 17 Gigabit Ethernet ports and two 10G Ethernet ports, with full Layer 4-7 switching capabilities on each port. (The previous switch, the AS4, included 12 Gigabit ports and a single 10G Ethernet port). With this base Application Switch hardware platform, data center administrators can choose from two software platforms to run on top of the switch – AppDirector and Defense Pro.

The AS5 when deployed as an AppDirector handles load balancing and Layer 7 switching, as well as acceleration of HTTP, TCP/IP and other application-specific protocols. AppDirector also can terminate TCP/IP, taking this processor burden off servers sitting behind the switch. The DefensePro platform is a high-speed intrusion-protection/intrusion-detection engine that can inspect traffic flows of as much as 6Gbps and catch intrusions and malicious packets based on known attack signatures and definitions. The AS5 is priced at $70,000.

Stampede also intends to increase its share of the growing application acceleration market by introducing its Web 2.0 Performance Series appliances and corresponding client software. This product combination is meant to accelerate and optimize applications based on Asynchronous JavaScript + XML (AJAX, an emerging technology, used in mashup Web applications, for example), XML and other SOA-based technologies. The product can accelerate XML schema validation and content routing, as well as perform SSL client-side termination.

Stampede, a small company compared with Cisco, F5 Networks and Radware, could be taking a lead by incorporating acceleration capabilities for SOA applications, says Joe Skorupa, research director at Gartner.

“AJAX has the ability to break things as badly as HTTP 1.0 did. It is very connection-sensitive and data-intensive, and if you don’t manage the cache appropriately you will have performance and server issues,” Skorupa says. “The company needs to take its technical expertise and somehow turn it into commercial success, like Riverbed has.”

Stampede also is set to launch its Acceleration On-Demand software, a client-side product to let users access from anywhere the same acceleration features as they would have in a main office or branch office with a Stampede appliance installed. The client-based software taps into a Stampede appliance located on a company’s premises and adds acceleration features to browser-based applications. This software is scheduled to ship in August and starts at $35 for a single license. The Web 2.0 Performance Series box is set to ship at the same time, priced at $35,000.

Coyote Point is ready to launch acceleration gear next week with its Equalizer E550 – a 16-port Gigabit switch that includes application-layer content switching and can support as many as 150,000 Web connections per second and 8 million concurrent connections with wire-speed throughput. The box, which also supports server connection-health checking and server failure-prediction alerts, is expected to be available this summer, starting at $13,500.

“For a company that doesn’t need all the bells and whistles of an F5 or a Citrix NetScaler, Coyote Point represents a low-cost, low-risk purchase,” Gartner’s Skorupa says.