Force10 manages to raise the 10G bar, again

Force10 Networks Inc. recently refreshed its 10G switch product line, doubling the switching capacity and port densities on all its chassis.

The new products are aimed at businesses or research centers that run high-end data centre networks with hundreds of servers attached via Gigabit or 10G Ethernet. The upgraded management modules and line cards for Force10’s switches will pack up to 672G or 56 10G Ethernet ports into a chassis that supports over a terabit and a half of total capacity, the vendor says.

The upgrades include new management and port modules for Force10’s E1200 switch chassis, which has 12 slots for port modules and two slots for redundant management modules. The six-slot E600 and three-port E300 chassis also are being upgraded.

Compared with its first-generation E-series predecessor, each respective device now supports double the backplane speed. The San Diego Supercomputing Center (SDSC) can use that much bandwidth. The center is part of the Teragrid project — a supercomputing project that links research data centres across the U.S. into one grid-computing infrastructure.

Clusters in the Teragrid hosted at SDSC consist of hundreds of servers connected via Gigabit Ethernet to a single E1200, with up to 26 10G Ethernet ports linking the switch to other switches or to 10G servers also in the grid. SDSC uses 10G switches from Cisco, Foundry and Force10. Boxes from Cisco Systems Inc. and Foundry Networks Inc. had caught up to Force10’s over the last year, says Nathaniel Mendoza, a network technician at SDSC. He says the new Force10 line cards again put the start-up ahead of the more established players.

“We’ll be adding a ton of capacity, so having a lot of ports that are line-rate is key,” Mendoza says. He says the center plans to consolidate some clusters from multiple switches onto a single E1200 with over 600 nodes. “You can’t do that with any other switches I’ve seen.”

Besides the high port counts and backplanes, Force10 is touting what it calls line-rate, or non-blocking, capabilities on the new blades. The vendor says every port on an E-series switch can be turned on at full-duplex speed without overloading the switch or dropping packets.

This was the case in Network World tests last year on Force10’s fist-generation E1200 switch. “The E1200 moved traffic at line rate with short, medium and long frames,” wrote David Newman, president of Network Test and a member of the Network World Global Test Alliance. “In all our baseline tests, the E1200 did not drop a single frame.”

Force10 says its new E1200 line cards can forward up to 1 billion packets per second in internal tests. This would double the performance of competing Ethernet switches such as Extreme’s BlackDiamond 10K and Foundry’s MG8. This speed also would top core Internet router speeds, such as Cisco’s CSR-1 Internet router, which can handle 960 million packets per second, and double the capacity of Juniper’s T640.

Force10 says its use of small form factor Gigabit Ethernet ports and 10G Small Form Factor Pluggable optics let more ports be crammed onto its line cards. The vendor says these blades also offer protection against network failures and or attacks on switch hardware, Layer 2 packet forwarding, Layer 3 switching and network management, which are all done on separate, redundant processors on each module.

The new chassis modules include:

– Route Processor Module (all chassis): US$30,000.

– A four-port 10G module (E1200 and E600): $48,000.

– A 48-port fiber-based Gigabit Ethernet module (E1200 and E600): $47,500.

– A 48-port, copper-based 10/100/1000M bit/sec module (E1200 and E600): $37,500.

– A dual-port 10G module (E300): $27,500.

– A 24-port Gigabit Ethernet module (E300): $30,000. All products are shipping now.

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