After arriving with a splash in the high-end switch market in September 2002, Force10 Networks continues to gain customers and praise from high-end users. But some observers say that, with its rivals catching up in technology, the firm must continue to push new products aimed at a broader range of customers or become just another player in a crowded, Cisco-dominated pack.\nAfter\u00a0arriving with a splash\u00a0in the high-end switch market in September 2002, Force10 Networks continues to gain customers and praise from high-end users. But some observers say that, with its rivals catching up in technology, the firm must continue to push new products aimed at a broader range of customers or become just another player in a crowded,\u00a0Cisco-dominated pack.\nAccording to Gartner, Force10 held less than 1% of all the $28 million\u00a010G Ethernet\u00a0market last year. Cisco led the market with 52% of revenue, followed by other well-established players: Foundry Networks, with 21%, and Nortel, with 9%.\nIn the past 12 months, although Force10 hasn't released any new products, its leadership has changed.\nPrabhat Dubey, who founded Force10 in 1999, stepped aside as CEO in June. Marc Randall, the firm's former head of engineering, took over. Randall previously worked at Cisco as vice president of engineering, directing the development of the Cisco 7500-series routers.\nIn February, the firm closed a deal for $41 million in venture capital financing, bringing the firm's total to $201 million. Investors in the start-up include Amerindo Investment Advisors, New Enterprise Associates, Pacesetter Capital Group, USVP and Worldview Technology Partners.\nThe company has been building its list of 10G Ethernet customers, recently adding Indiana University, the National Center for Supercomputing and Argonne National Laboratory to its customer list. In February, Force10 announced large pricecuts, cutting its 10G per-port price almost in half to $17,000.\nProduct news also has slowed. The company debuted with strong gear, its\u00a0E1200 and E600\u00a0high-end switch-routers. The two switches caused some buzz in the high-end Ethernet switch community, as the gear boasted 5 terabits\/sec of backplane throughput, with Gigabit and 10G Ethernet densities unmatched by established players.\nThe debut of the E1200 also aired a bit of dirty laundry in the closets of some vendors who touted 10G Ethernet switches: Most products on the market could\u00a0only support 6G to 8G bit\/sec of throughput\u00a0between ports on different switch modules. This bottleneck that existed among major players made Force10 the only vendor that offered true 10G performance.\nSince then, key enterprise competitors such as Cisco,\u00a0Enterasys Networks,\u00a0Extreme Networks\u00a0and\u00a0Foundry\u00a0have announced next-generation products, although only Cisco and Foundry are shipping in volume at this time, sources say.\n"Cisco and Foundry have announced line-rate 10-Gigabit cards, so it's no longer valid for Force10 to claim they are the only true 10-Gig game in town," says David Newman, president of Network Test, a network equipment testing and consulting firm, and part of Network World's\u00a0Global Test Alliance.\n"Force10 made a lot of its competitors in this market work a little harder because they were so far ahead of the game than companies" such as Cisco, Extreme and Foundry, says Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with The Yankee Group.\nThe issue that might still hinder Force10 is the company's viability, Kerravala says. With questions of financial viability surrounding even large, established network players such as Lucent and Nortel, companies looking to invest in next-generation infrastructure are looking for vendors that will be in it for the long run, he adds.\nSources say Force10 will launch several new products this quarter aimed at smaller IT shops that still are interested in deploying high-density Gigabit and 10G Ethernet links. Those familiar with Force10's plans say the new gear will include three-slot and fixed-configuration switches with Gigabit and 10G ports that could be used for aggregating smaller server farms or for long-haul switch-to-switch connections over dark fiber.\nWhile competitors might have announced gear that can handle full 10G bit\/sec links, Andrew Feldman, vice president of marketing for Force10, says the company is still a year ahead of the market in terms of building production-ready 10G switches.\n"We've been through the wringer on some of the most demanding networks," Feldman says. "Our boxes have been hammered into shape. Other [vendor's products] will get there too, but they'll have to go through the same things we did in the field." Because of this, Feldman says, the company can produce new technology while competitors work on making their boxes more stable.\nFeldman says 10G and Gigabit are becoming popular in large server cluster deployments. While interconnects such as\u00a0InfiniBand,\u00a0Fibre Channel\u00a0and other proprietary technologies have been the norm for large system clustering, Force10 is pushing Ethernet - 10G that is - as the lower-cost, standards-based alternative. The drive for server consolidation and the fusing of storage and IP networks are two large opportunities for Force10, Feldman adds.\nOne organization that uses 10G in server clusters is the San Diego Supercomputing Center (SDSC).\nSeveral hundred ports of 10G are used at the SDSC, which is a part of the\u00a0Teragrid, a project that links supercomputing resources across the country into one grid-computing infrastructure. SDSC uses 10G Ethernet, which are less expensive and faster, according to Kevin Walsh, a senior network engineer at the SDSC.\n"You can't beat Ethernet for its interoperability and price" when it comes to networking large systems, he says. "The evolution of [10 Gigabit] should propel Ethernet past other proprietary [technologies]."