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Extreme switch hits 10G, adds mgmt.

Dec 08, 20035 mins
Intrusion Detection SoftwareNetwork SecurityNetwork Switches

Extreme Networks this week is expected to launch BlackDiamond 10K, a 10G Ethernet LAN switch that actually runs at 10G bit/sec, as opposed to the company’s previous generation of switches, which topped out at 8G bit/sec.

Extreme Networks this week is expected to launch BlackDiamond 10K, a 10G Ethernet LAN switch that actually runs at 10G bit/sec, as opposed to the company’s previous generation of switches, which topped out at 8G bit/sec.

The company also is claiming the highest 10G density in the industry.

The bandwidth boost also comes with major changes to Extreme’s switch software and management architecture. At the heart of the switch is a new operating system designed to give Extreme-based networks the ability to stop attacks and even execute automated switch-to-server communications that could improve efficiency in areas such as voice-over-IP and virtual data-center provisioning, Extreme says.

The BlackDiamond 10K brings Extreme’s core switch offering up to snuff with competitors CiscoEnterasys Networks, Force10 Networks and Foundry Networks – all of which this year announced products that provide non-blocking 10G Ethernet connectivity. Extreme’s switch is an eight-slot chassis with line cards available with 60 ports of 1000Base-T Ethernet or six ports of 10G Ethernet. The box can handle up to 48 10G ports and has a 1.6T bit/sec total switching capacity.

The BlackDiamond 10K is what one user was waiting for.

“I was getting a little concerned about what was going on at Extreme in June,” says Robert Jacobs, director of network services for Phonoscope, a metropolitan Ethernet service provider in Houston. “Cisco had its [next-generation] Catalyst 6509 out at that time, while Extreme’s still wasn’t out.”

Phonoscope uses older Extreme BlackDiamond switches in its core network, which serves several hundred customers with dark fiber-based Gigabit Ethernet metropolitan-area network links. He says that while Extreme had offered 10G Ethernet on the old platform, he wasn’t interested in paying 10G prices for only 80% of the bandwidth.

“Until now, it’s been cheaper for me to light single-Gigabit fiber pairs and bond the links together to make backbone trunks,” Jacobs says.

Phonoscope will install four BlackDiamond 10Ks this month, and will replace all of its trunked 4G bit/sec backbone links with 10G bit/sec Ethernet.

The BlackDiamond 10K comes with a new operating system called Extreme XOS. The architecture is different from Extreme’s old ExtremeWare software, or any other vendor’s architecture, in that it is based on open source Unix software that resides on a flash memory card and runs in RAM on the switch’s management module.

With this base Unix operating system, Extreme says network services, protocols and features – such as Rapid Spanning Tree, Multi-protocol Label Switching and IPv6 – can be installed and deactivated without taking down the switch. Because these services run as separate software modules instead of being part of a monolithic piece of firmware code, the failure of one module won’t cause the entire switch to go down, Extreme says.

This feature also appeals to Phonoscope’s Jacobs.

“I’ve always thought it would be nice to be able to, say, stop this SNMP service or start up that routing service or upgrade this feature without having to take down the entire box,” Jacobs says. “That’s something all vendors, not just Extreme, have been lacking.”

Another feature in Extreme XOS is the use of XML-based messaging for switch-to-switch or switch-to-server management communications. Such messages could include updates on network security policies and settings, or reconfiguration of virtual LAN (VLAN) and quality-of-service (QoS) settings. Extreme says this method of communication could replace scripting methods many customers use for executing batch command line interface tasks across a network.

Extreme says XML messaging also could be used to better integrate LAN switch infrastructure with other devices such as server farms, load balancers and IP PBXs. In the trend toward a virtualized data-center model in which servers, applications and storage are moved and configured on the fly, Extreme XOS could communicate with virtualization management systems and reconfigure switch ports, VLANs, QoS settings and network policies as virtualized data-center resources were provisioned.

Extreme and Avaya are working on technology that will let XOS-based switches communicate network status information to an Avaya IP PBX – an IP-based Linux server appliance. This could allow the Extreme switch to automatically configure QoS settings for voice traffic. The switch also would be able to notify the Avaya IP PBX through XML messaging that the network was congested or inaccessible, in which case the IP PBX could then switch to a secondary IP or plain-old-telephone-service network. Extreme says this joint offering will be available next year.

Extreme also is expanding into intrusion detection with XOS. The company says in the near future, corporations will be able to deploy LAN switches that can detect malicious traffic patterns and shut down or squeeze network pipes to stop the spread of attacks. Currently, Extreme switches can be configured to block or rate-limit suspicious traffic through Layer 3 access control lists in Extreme switch hardware, but these settings must be manually turned on or off.

“Extreme’s offering isn’t just about having the fastest 10 Gigabit port,” says Max Flisi, a research analyst with IDC. “It’s more about what you actually do with network traffic, and how to manage it.”

However, he says with these advanced features on such a high-end switch, Extreme could be short-changing its midtier customers who want advanced management and security but aren’t ready yet for gushing 10G LAN pipes.