Foundry shifts its switch strategy

Foundry Networks Inc. announced high-density 10/100, Gigabit and 10 Gigabit modules for its FastIron switches, expanding the products’ role in enterprise networks, while costing 25 per cent less than the company’s current enterprise core/datacentre switch.

Foundry says FastIron switches have a common chassis and software that makes configuring and managing the boxes easier and less expensive. By packing more ports onto the FastIron modules – thanks to new chip technology – Foundry says it can offer companies a backbone switch that is more powerful and less expensive than its current flagship enterprise box or competitors’ offerings. Foundry quoted a basic FastIron configuration with 56 Gigabit ports at US$60,000, whereas one of its similarly configured BigIron backbone switches costs US$80,000. The company claims users should see price savings of between 30 per cent to 50 per cent vs. similarly configured boxes from Cisco and Extreme Networks.

The modules for the FastIron – primarily a wiring-closet box in the past – will double the number of 10/100 and Gigabit ports supported among the FastIron 400, 800 and 15000 models, giving them twice the capacity of the BigIron enterprise LAN/metropolitan-area network backbone switch. The eight new modules for the FastIron 400, 800 and 15000 chassis include two management modules – a single-slot, eight port, mini-gigabit interface card blade, and a dual-slot, 24-port 10/100 module with four mini-GBIC or copper Gigabit ports. For 10/100 connectivity, two 48-port modules are being offered – a dual-slot RJ-45 module and a single-slot RJ-21 Telco interface module.

For Gigabit connections, Foundry is offering a 16-port 100/1000Base-T module and a mini-GBIC blade with eight or 16 ports. A single-port 10 Gigabit Ethernet blade also will be introduced.

The modules are based on Foundry’s new ASIC dubbed “JetCore,” which on a single circuit handles the job that required nine previous-generation ASICs, the company says. This lets Foundry double the port count for each FastIron. The high-end FastIron 15000 can now support 232 Gigabit Ethernet ports or 672 10/100 ports.

Along with greater port density, the ASICs bring new features to the FastIron line, such as rate limiting (for controlling bandwidth on a per-user level) jumbo frame support; Layer 3 switching; and hardware-based access-control list lookup and enforcement for network security.

With the new modules the FastIron 15000 joins Foundry’s BigIron in competing with other backbone switches such as Cisco’s Catalyst 6500, Enterasys’ X-Pedition, Extreme’s BlackDiamond and Nortel’s Passport 8600. Foundry’s BigIron switch was the company’s leading competitive product for high-end corporations.

Because all FastIron chassis share the same software and have interchangeable blades, companies could have an easier time managing and configuring their hardware while stocking fewer spare switch parts. Foundry says this single architecture differs from its competitors, such as Cisco, Enterasys and Extreme, which sell multiple switch models with incompatible parts and disparate software for the enterprise edge, core and datacentre locations.

“Foundry is starting to understand that you can’t just sell yourself on wire-speed ASICs to enterprise anymore,” says Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with The Yankee Group. The recasting of the FastIron as an all-in-one enterprise switch that can save users money is the key point. “Generally, Cisco has been the only one to get across those values to customers.”

Foundry is tying the FastIron upgrade into its shift in strategy for its enterprise products by touting the FastIron as a wiring-closet, backbone and data centre switch for corporations. The company’s previous strategy was to sell FastIron switches as wiring-closet and aggregation boxes, with BigIrons in the core and data centre. Available modules include the 10/100 RJ-45 and RJ-21 blades, the eight-port GBIC management module and line card, and the 10 Gigabit Ethernet modules. All other modules will be available in March.