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Force10 Networks: A start-up to watch

Apr 21, 20033 mins

These young vendors offer fresh approaches for addressing today's enterprise network challenges, from setting up secure wireless LANs to virtualizing data center resources.

Force10 Networks

Company name: Named for the market it targets – 10G Ethernet switching.

Origin: Founded in May 1999 by Prabhat Dubey, formerly the entrepreneur-in-residence at U.S. Venture Partners (USVP). Before that, he was CEO of network processor vendor MMC Networks.

Funding: A $42 million third round closed in February 2003, bringing total funding to $210 million.

Investors: Amerindo Investment Advisors, New Enterprise Associates, Pacesetter Capital Group, USVP and Worldview Technology Partners, among others.

CEO: Prabhat Dubey.

Products: E1200 and E600 10G Ethernet switches.

Many companies today don’t need the kind of network horsepower Force10 Networks offers with its 10G Ethernet switches, but if Moore’s Law holds true, they soon will.

Force10, in Milpitas, Calif., focuses on the 10G Ethernet switch market, which Dell’Oro Group forecasts to grow in worldwide revenue from $250 million in 2002 to $3 billion by 2005. To go after this market, the company announced and started shipping its E1200 switch last fall, which can house up to 336 Gigabit Ethernet ports or 28 10G Ethernet ports (the most in the industry).

The company is taking on high-end switch vendors Cisco, Extreme Networks, Foundry Networks and Nortel with a simple tactic – build a bigger, faster switch. Designed from the get-go for 10 Gigabit speeds, the E1200 is the only chassis today that provides a full 10G bit/sec of bandwidth to each 10G Ethernet port inserted in the box. Most 10 Gigabit switch modules, which fit in chassis that predate 10 Gigabit speeds, allow for a maximum of 6G to 8G bit/sec of bandwidth. Competitors likely will catch up in the next 18 months, leaving Force10 a short time to ingratiate itself as the fastest kid on the block, analysts say.

Betting a large enterprise backbone on a start-up could be risky, but a growing number of user organizations are taking the chance. Force10’s customer list includes the Albert Einstein Institute, a German physics research firm; the California Institute of Technology; the San Diego Supercomputing Center; and the University of Amsterdam. And the company continues to woo investors, having recently closed a sizable third round of funding.

No doubt, the 10G Ethernet market is small today. The 25,000 ports shipped last year account for less than 0.1% of all Ethernet ports sold, according to analysts. But as Gigabit Ethernet infiltrates desktops and becomes the server standard, larger pipes inevitably will be needed in the enterprise core – and that’s what Force10 is betting on.