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Enterasys boosts 10Gig support

Dec 16, 20026 mins
Network SwitchesNetworking

Enterasys Networks this week will revamp the 10 Gigabit Ethernet support in its switches to help customers link high-density wiring closet devices to backbone switches and let companies more easily deploy high-speed links over metropolitan or campus-area networks where strands of fiber are scarce.

ROCHESTER, N.H. – Enterasys Networks this week will revamp the 10 Gigabit Ethernet support in its switches to help customers link high-density wiring closet devices to backbone switches and let companies more easily deploy high-speed links over metropolitan or campus-area networks where strands of fiber are scarce.

The modules, for Enterasys’ X-Pedition ER-16 and Matrix E1 switches, come almost 18 months after Enterasys announced its entry in the 10 Gigabit market with a prestandard Matrix E1 switch, the industry’s first 10 Gigabit box.

Since then, the lagging standards process and lack of demand have slowed the company’s 10 Gigabit push.

The company also has had to deal with a leadership shakeup and a massive re-examination of its accounting practices after an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this year.

Enterasys added a one-port 10 Gigabit Ethernet module to its X-Pedition ER-16, a 16-slot Layer 2 to Layer 4 modular switch.

The chassis now can support up to 128 Gigabit Ethernet ports, seven 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports, and modules for FDDI, Packet over SONET, and high-density 10/100M bit connections.

The 10 Gigabit products bring X-Pedition up to speed with competing products such as Cisco’s Catalyst 6500, Foundry Networks’ BigIron, Extreme Networks’ BlackDiamond, Hewlett-Packard’s 9300m and Alcatel’s OmniSwitch 8800.

Enterasys’ Matrix E1 is a fixed-configured Ethernet switch with 12 Gigabit Ethernet ports and one 10 Gigabit Ethernet slot. The box, which was announced in mid-2001 and delivered last year, was previously available only with proprietary 10 Gigabit technology.

While industry watchers say mass 10 Gigabit adoption is a few years off, some corporate users would like to see it sooner than later.

“I could use [10 Gigabit Ethernet links] today” says Mike Cranmer, an assistant vice president of technical operations at IGN Variable Annuities in West Chester, Pa. “Currently, we are running single Gigabit uplinks [from the LAN edge to the core] and I have seen utilization hit 80% from time to time.”

“A single 10 Gigabit uplink would give me the density and capacity I needed for the foreseeable future,” he adds.

Finishing what it started

One reason for the long delay in delivery of Matrix E1 since it was announced almost 18 months ago was the holdup in the ratification of the 802.3ae standard by the IEEE. The standard was scheduled to be ratified last March but lingered until June. Another reason was market conditions.

“To be honest, we didn’t see much of a market for 10 Gigabit Ethernet,” last year, even while Cisco, Foundry and others all shipped prestandard 10G Ethernet gear in 2001, says Mark Pearce, product marketing manager for X-Pedition. “We saw no need to rush into it.”

While the 10 Gigabit modules put Enterasys in the same arena with the rest of the 10 Gigabit players, the company says its product has the same shortcomings as many other competitors in that its 10 Gig blades can’t deliver true 10G bit/sec performance on a single 803.3ae port.

According to many industry experts and the vendors, most companies offering 10G Ethernet modules for their modular switch products can deliver only between 6G and 8G bit/sec of throughput on the ports because of limitations in the chassis’ architecture (more details).

Like many competitors, X-Pedition – based on Cabletron’s old SmartSwitch Router architecture – is built on older backplane and module interconnect technology, with a limit of around 8G bit/sec between the module slots and the backplane.

Despite this limitation, Enterasys says the new modules can be valuable to corporations for connecting backbone switches with high-speed links.

“If all you have is single fiber, eight gigabits per second is still better than one,” Pearce says. He adds that the modules support 802.3ad link aggregation, which allows two 10G Ethernet ports to be trunked together for a maximum of around 14G to 16G bit/sec.

Ten Gigabit modules for the X-Pedition chasis (which costs around $20,000) will be available next month, starting at around $35,000 for a single-port blade. Then new 10 Gigabit module for the Matrix E1 (which costs $25,000) will be available for $1,300, down from $10,000 in the previous model.

Enterasys’ 10 Gigabit products come at the end of what’s been a year to forget for the company. Last month, it finished restating its entire 2001 annual report, after it was discovered that it overstated revenue in the fourth quarter of that year. In February, the company revealed that the SEC was looking into its finances and accounting practices. This led to the resignation of Henry Fialo as the company’s CEO, and the appointment of William O’Brien to the company’s top post in April. Fallout from those moves lingers, as the Associated Press reported last week that a lawsuit was filed by Enterasys investors against Fialo, Piyush Patel, CEO of Cabletron, which once controlled Enterasys, and David Kirkpatrick, Cabletron’s CFO.

While some observers say Enterasys’ fate skirted close to the paths of companies such as WorldCom and Global Crossing, its customers were also largely unshaken by the vendor’s troubles.

A recent Gartner report on Enterasys also shines a positive light on the embattled vendor.

“We believe Enterasys has put the financial risk associated with its past problems behind it,” Gartner analysts Lawrence Orans and Mark Fabbi write in the report. “The company has survived two tumultuous periods – its spinoff from a downward-spiraling Cabletron and this recent spate of financial improprieties.”

What’s ahead for EnterasysSome strategies observers say the embattled company needs to take to stay competitive:
InnovateThe company must continue to develop on its core technology, including LAN infrastructure, security and VPNs, while differentiating itself from new low-cost, commodity switch makers that have entered the market, namely Dell.
PartnerPartnerships with vendors in areas where Enterasys does not play — such as Siemens in VoIP — will be critical to gaining customer mindshare. Large, high-profile convergence customer wins would help too.
PromoteThe company needs to promote itself more as an end-to-end enterprise data network firm, because it is one of the few vendors with LAN, WAN, security, wireless, VPN and network management offerings.