Extreme: two tiers are better than three

Extreme Networks Inc. last month rolled out a new edge switch designed to allow enterprise customers looking for high availability to collapse their network architectures from the traditional three tiers down to two tiers.

Called the Aspen 8800 series, the switch line boasts Power over Ethernet on every port to appeal to users looking to deploy IP telephony and wireless access points. The switch comes in ten-slot and six-slot models. Each module can support 48 Gigabit Ethernet ports. A four-port 10Gigabit Ethernet module is also available.

The Aspen uses the same XOS Unix-based operating system as Extreme’s BlackDiamond 10K core switch. The boxes also include support for Extreme’s Ethernet Automatic Protection Switching (EAPS) protocol, which lets switches operate in a ring and fail over within 50 milliseconds.

Joshua Johnson, an analyst with IT consultancy Synergy Research, was impressed with the Aspen.

“They’ve really thought through all the features they could add to one product,” he said. “Typically when I get a briefing, a company will go through one or two new features. The Aspen introduces a new concept, which is more hardware redundancy at the edge of the network.”

In the past, most large networks have relied on three tiers of switching – edge switches, deployed in wiring closets close to end users; aggregation switches, which connect to several edge switches on one end and core switches on the other; and large, highly available core switches, which form the heart of the network.

Extreme believes that users can ease their network management headaches and increase their network reliability by boosting availability at the network edge and getting rid of the aggregation layer.

“We believe the opportunity is ripe to collapse the network architecture of yesteryear into something that is much simpler – a two-tier network,” said Varun Nagaraj, vice-president of product marketing at Extreme. “But if you’re going to put all your eggs in one basket, you have to be confident the basket is a strong one.”

With that in mind, the Aspen has a number of high availability features more typically associated with core boxes, such as redundant power supplies, dual management and switch fabric modules, and redundant fans.

Nagaraj admits a two-tier approach won’t work for everyone. Some traditional three-tier environments might have trouble running fibre all the way from their edge switches to the core, he noted. But he believes the two-tier design is perfectly suited for firms that are looking at a technology refresh, or moving to a new building. The Aspen line is available immediately.

The Aspen 8810, the 10-slot chassis, lists at US$7,000. The six-slot chassis, the 8806, lists at US$3,500. The PoE-enabled Gigabit Ethernet ports start around US$350 per port, while the 10Gigabit Ethernet ports cost US$3,500 per port.