The dance around 40G Ethernet for data centres

LAS VEGAS — Notwithstanding an aggressive first strike by Extreme Networks Inc., switching vendors are largely mum on when and in what configurations they will ship 40G Ethernet products.

Extreme announced and demonstrated four-port 40G Ethernet modules for its Summit X650 stackable edge and BlackDiamond modular switches at the Interop conference here this week. Extreme is pricing the modules aggressively: $1,000 per port, which is only US$85 more than the average selling price of a 10G Ethernet port, according to Dell’Oro Group.

Yet, with the exception of Force10 Networks and Brocade Communications Systems Inc., Extreme’s competitors would not commit to timeframes for shipping 40G Ethernet products, and only Brocade indicated it could match Extreme’s price points.

Industry leader Cisco Systems Inc. may have a more delicate issue to deal with than determining 40G Ethernet pricing and availability. With a 230Gbps backplane, the current generation of Cisco’s new Nexus 7000 data centre switch may not have enough horsepower to support 40G Ethernet interfaces at densities that make the technology feasible — which is eight to 16 ports per slot, industry players say. It would require an upgrade to the 2-year-old Nexus 7000 switch fabric, according to sources inside and outside of Cisco.

“It can support 40G, but not at usable densities with a 230G backplane,” said one source with knowledge of the situation. “And there’s no live migration of the fabric — it would be outage-based,” he said, referring to downtime required to upgrade the switch.

A source within Cisco said the company will ship 40G Ethernet on the Nexus 7000 after the standard is ratified in June, and left open the possibility that it could be this year — “If we can get the optics vendors to play ball” on 40G densities Cisco desires, the source said.

Another Cisco official was evasive on how and when the Nexus 7000 will support 40G Ethernet in densities of at least eight ports per slot. The bigger issue is if a customer has a system with a reasonable entry price point with an architecture that’s designed to scale, said Thomas Scheibe, director of Cisco’s Data Centre Switching and Services group.

“The current 7000 will support 40/100G,” he said. “Is the architecture there to scale? It’s designed to scale to half a terabit per slot. That will be driven by when a customer needs it.”

That scalability will require an upgrade to the switch’s five fabric modules, one source said, which are designed for “highly scalable 10 Gigabit Ethernet networks.” The current Nexus 7000 supervisor modules should work, but the chassis backplane would need to be tested with the new modules for signal integrity, the source said.

Though optimized for high-density 10G, the Nexus 7000 was also designed for future support of 40/100G Ethernet, Cisco said during the product’s launch two years ago. What was not said, however, was what it would take to get there.

One user was not aware of the issue but not alarmed by it either.  

“I hadn’t heard that from Cisco, probably because I hadn’t asked,” said Michael Morris, senior manager of IT Communications Engineering at a U.S.-based IT company, and a Network World U.S. blogger. “I have no need for 40G/100G … right now, so not a big issue for me. Still some [dollars] but you’re not ripping out chassis, line cards and cables.”

In addition to Extreme, other Cisco competitors are unveiling switches with 100Gbps per second per slot of capacity in preparation for 40/100G Ethernet. Force10 said it will ship 40G Ethernet switches later this year, but pricing “will be somewhere between 6-8x the price of 10 GbE when products first begin shipping later this year, but ‘normalize’ at 4x over time,” senior director of product marketing Kevin Wade wrote in an email earlier this month.

Hewlett-Packard Co. inherited a 40/100G ready switch — the 12500 — with its recent acquisition of 3Com Corp.; and start-up Arista Networks just unveiled the AN 7500, with 10Tbps of capacity for 40/100G Ethernet. The switch won a Best of Interop award at the conference this week.

AristaNetworks plans to ship 12- to 16-port 40G and four-port 100G Ethernet modules for the AN 7500 in late 2011 or early 2012, said Doug Gourlay, vice president of marketing. Gourlay helped develop the Nexus 7000 when he was at Cisco.

“Core switching and routing incumbents have been milking [older generation] ASICs and architectures for years,” Gourlay said during an Interop panel discussion titled “Why Networking Must Fundamentally Change.” “It’s good for their economics but not yours.

“I would not put a [40/100G Ethernet] card into a modular product you’ll be throwing away in two or three years,” he said.

Brocade said it will have a 100G Ethernet blade for its MLX-32 system in a service provider customer’s hands before the end of the year, and 40G Ethernet for the switch in early 2011. John McHugh, Brocade’s chief marketing officer, said price points “get set by the industry” but also “there’s no reason why Brocade can’t match” Extreme’s $1,000 per port price.

Avaya Inc. — which entered the scene with its acquisition of Nortel Networks’ Enterprise Solutions group — was not ready to talk about timelines and configurations for 40G Ethernet products, which will likely appear on its VSP 9000 data center core switch.



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