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LAN gear offers new twist to switching

Apr 21, 20034 mins
Network SwitchesNetworking

Whether an organization’s LAN switch plans call for gear that’s inside or outside the box, new products from Enterasys and Cisco are aiming to satisfy both camps.

Whether an organization’s LAN switch plans call for gear that’s inside or outside the box, new products from Enterasys and Cisco are aiming to satisfy both camps.

Ethernet switch gear from these vendors promise faster, more resilient LANs, but they deliver through different approaches.

With its new Matrix N-Series Chassis, Enterasys now has a full-scale 10 Gigabit LAN core box, while Cisco is offering a way to tie together Catalyst stackable switches to form a more flexible LAN edge or distribution layer.

Enterasys this week introduced its Matrix N-7 and N-3 chassis and modules built around the vendor’s N-Series ASIC technology. The blades allow for greater 10G Ethernet throughput and finer control of quality of service (QoS), security and management of Wi-Fi clients.

The Matrix N-7 supports up to 20G bit/sec of bandwidth between its line cards, allowing for full-duplex 10G Ethernet throughput from port to port. Previous Matrix switches were limited to 6.5G bit/sec of bandwidth between cards in a chassis, or about 65% throughput for a 10G Ethernet port.

Strength and intelligence

New switch architecture in the N-Series boxes allows for more resiliency and easier configuration, the company says. Instead of one centralized management or switch fabric module, the N-Series boxes distribute switching intelligence to all blades in the chassis, Enterasys says. This means any number of modules could fail while the rest of the box’s ports remain active.

Most architectures use redundant management modules that offer more limited redundancy while taking up room in the chassis for connectivity blades, says Bill Clark, Enterasys’ director of product marketing.

While 10 Gigabit isn’t on most network managers’ to-do lists (see story), one user has waited for Enterasys to offer a full 10G Ethernet pipe.

“I’m one of those people who can chew up that higher bandwidth,” says James Weidel, director of networking at the University of Southern California. Deployed at USC’s campus in Los Angeles is a mesh of Gigabit Ethernet switches from Enterasys (and Cabletron, which spun off Enterasys). Weidel says he’d like to upgrade to 10G Ethernet and extend Gigabit links to more desktops.

“The backplane on everybody’s switches are a limitation for 10 Gigabit,” Weidel says, “but the vendors seem to be playing catch-up in that area now.”

Policy assignment

Another feature added to the N-Series ASICs is the ability to enforce up to 64,000 unique network policies to IP traffic flows, based on Layer 3 (IP address) and Layer 4 (TCP, User Datagram Protocol port) packet information. Policies could include QoS prioritization of specific end-user or application traffic, or the denial of certain IP addresses to network resources or segments. The previous series of Matrix Layer 2-Layer 4 switches were limited to 1,000 policies.

Different policies also can be assigned to multiple end-users attached to a LAN from the same network port. This allows multiple wireless LAN users, who access the network via a single WLAN endpoint, to be assigned different levels of security, network rights and bandwidth service levels.

Enterasys’ Clark says a three-slot Matrix N-3 chassis would let a user integrate many of the features touted in new WLAN switch products – from such vendors as Trapeze and Aruba – into one wiring closet box.

Big chassis alternative

Cisco’s Catalyst 3750 represents an alternative to a big chassis switch in the LAN core and edge – which has been the company’s strategy. With the Catalyst 3750 comes StackWise technology, which lets up to nine Catalyst 3750s – supporting 24 or 48 10/100/1000M bit/sec ports – be stacked into a virtual chassis, with 32G bit/sec of bandwidth between each box provided through trunked Gigabit Ethernet ports. Cisco’s previous stacking architecture allowed for a 1G bit/sec of interswitch bandwidth.

A stack of Catalyst 3750s could be deployed in a wiring closet for high-density desktop connections, or in a data center for supplying servers with 100/1000Base-T links, Cisco says.

The switches support routing protocols such as Open Shortest Path First, Router Information Protocol and Hot Standby Router Protocol for redundancy and intelligent traffic forwarding. In a StackWise configuration with routing, a single Catalyst 3750 acts as a master node, providing route table information. The master node also can fail over to other nodes in the stack. The boxes support both IP version 4 and 6, and run the same firmware as Cisco’s Catalyst 3550 stackable boxes.

The Catalyst 3750 with StackWise costs $6,000.

The Matrix N7 chassis with redundant power supplies costs $10,500, and a redundant N3 is $5,500. Modules for the N-Series include a 30-port 10/100/1000 Ethernet blade for $20,000, a 48-port 10/100 blade for $13,000 and 12-port mini-gigabit interface converter module for $21,000. A dual-port 10G Ethernet module with swappable Xenpak optics will be available in third quarter, pricing to be determined.