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Extreme adds switch oomph

Apr 14, 20034 mins
Network SwitchesNetworking

Streaming media, autonegotiation modules make their debuts.

Extreme Networks last week introduced Gigabit Ethernet chassis modules powered by new feature-rich silicon that could serve to remind customers that the company with the purple boxes is still after their high-end switch business.

SANTA CLARA – Extreme Networks last week introduced Gigabit Ethernet chassis modules powered by new feature-rich silicon that could serve to remind customers that the company with the purple boxes is still after their high-end switch business.

A new module introduced for Extreme’s BlackDiamond switch could help companies deploy more efficient multimedia streaming for applications such as corporate content distribution or online hosting services. Other new modules could help companies deploy high-density 10/100/1000M bit/sec Ethernet LANs, and they include tools to manage and troubleshoot physical layer connections and cables.

At the heart of these offerings is Extreme’s new ASIC design, which it calls Triumph – the third generation of silicon for the BlackDiamond.

Extreme’s Streaming Media Accelerator (SMA) module is a new product based on Triumph. With the hardware-based streaming technology, the company says SMA-based streaming is easier to manage and less expensive to deploy than a network full of IP multicast-enabled routers.

SMA lets up to 80,000 subscribers attach to media streams replicated from one server and a BlackDiamond switch. The SMA module acts as a proxy between a streaming media server and subscriber PCs, and recognizes clients that are subscribers to a certain media stream. Streamed content from the server is buffered in the SMA module and sent to subscribers over the network. No other network gear needs to be configured for supporting multicast protocols, the company says, and fewer servers are required to serve up the content.

A BlackDiamond with the SMA module was deployed at AOL Time Warner last month for streaming audio content to subscribers. While IP Multicast has been the industry standard for streaming media, says Scott Brown, senior technical manager of vertical applications for AOL, “it unfortunately has significant configuration requirements on the routing devices between the media consumer and the media distribution point.” He adds that the ability of SMA to propagate unicast traffic to multiple recipients avoids complexity and requires less gear.

“Using the Extreme SMA [module], we are able to deploy far fewer devices, which translates to less overhead all around in terms of human resource, floor space, power and ancillary network equipment,” Brown adds.

The Triumph ASICs are the brains behind a new 24-port blade, dubbed the G25T, that autonegotiates among 10M, 100M and 1G bit/sec connections. Extreme also offers the G16X, a 16-port line card based on Triumph that can use Gigabit Interface Converter modules with either copper- or fiber-based Gigabit Ethernet connections.

For cable and physical link management, Extreme says its Triumph ASICs on the G24T and G16X cards can sense bad port connections. Each port can detect how long a network cable is (in meters), and the modules can sense faults, such as improperly terminated cables or misconfigured connections, between the port and attached devices.

Another feature supported in the Triumph-based modules is what Extreme calls T-Control Rate Shaping, in which the bandwidth on individual ports can be limited from 1M to 1G bit/sec, based on network rules and management criteria. For instance, networks that are disrupted by the use of point-to-point file sharing or Internet radio could limit speeds on those connections, while letting more important network traffic run at full throttle, the company says.

One of Extreme’s challenges will be to convince companies that Triumph is more than just a package of bells and whistles, one industry observer says.

“Extreme has been known as the vendor with all those features that no one uses,” says Zeus Kerravala, a senior analyst with The Yankee Group. “They’ve definitely built a lot of extra capabilities into their box again; we’ll see if they can articulate those features into a business value.”

Kerravala says Extreme will have to be convincing when making the business case for its gear, as its high-end switching competition continues to ramp up. He says recent price reductions from Force10 Networks, a 10G and Gigabit product splash from Cisco last month, and a next-generation platform coming up from Foundry Networks are threats to Extreme.