Nortel unveils beefed-up Accelar

Nortel Networks’s latest gigabit Ethernet chassis-based switch, the Accelar 8000 series, is equally at home in the wiring closet and enterprise core.

Capable of supporting up to 384 10/100Mbps ports, the 8000 can be populated with either Layer 2 or Layer 3 blades. This means that if users want to install the 8000 as a pure Layer 2, high-density wiring closet box, they can get Layer 2 price points, said John Bertram, director of systems engineering with Nortel in North York, Ont. That’s an option Nortel customers didn’t have on the original Accelar 1000 series.

“It (the 1000) was economical, but it was still Layer 3 pricing,” Bertram said. “This (the 8000) will give you the option to build a box in the closet that you could populate with Layer 3 in the August timeframe.”

The 8000 chassis and the Layer 2 blades ship this month. The Layer 3 blades will begin shipping in August. The switch will also support OC-3 (155Mbps) and OC-12 (622Mbps) ATM line cards.

Nortel is positioning the 8000 as a higher-density alternative to its stackable BayStack 450 switches in the wiring closet and as a more powerful alternative to the Accelar 1200 in the core.

The 8000 is designed to operate at the heart of converged voice/data networks and features full redundancy, including redundant switch fabrics that are both on-line at all times, redundant power supplies and redundant fans. The switch also supports Nortel’s MultiLink Trunking, which allows trunk ports to be distributed across multiple modules.

Initially, the 8000 will have a maximum switch fabric of 50Gbps. That will increase to 128Gbps when the Layer 3 blades are released and the switch’s total capacity is scalable to 256Gbps.

Like the Accelar 1200, the 8000 has a distributed Layer 3 architecture, performing forwarding on a per-port basis. The 8000 also has added intelligence that allows it to handle application recognition at each port. Users can even do real-time accounting when running the 8000 with Nortel’s Optivity management tool.

Daniel Gregatti, regional system engineer manager with Nortel in North York, said the accounting is a useful feature for firms operating converged networks, allowing them to bill long-distance charges back to the department from which the calls originated.

Gary Nero, manager of network services at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, oversees an almost-5,000-user network that relies on BayStack 450s in the wiring closets and Accelar 1200s at the core. He’s looking forward to the possibility of deploying 8000s in both the core and closets.

“The availability of higher density, the availability of more gigabit ports, the higher backplane capacity and a faster switching matrix — that’s very positive from the hospital’s point of view,” he said. “Our original plan was to stack the BayStacks, but I can see where we need better performance and higher density than the stacks can get us.”

The hospital could also use the 8000 at the core, Nero said, because the network is running some bandwidth-heavy applications. One example is an imaging application the hospital is rolling out for its picture archive.

“Basically, it’s transporting images for diagnostic and clinical reviews from the archive to a workstation…with the intent of eventually going filmless at some point in time,” he said.

Nero also plans to implement policy-based networking and he said he believes the 8000 should be a better policy platform than the 1200 because it supports more queues and simultaneous flows.

Mark Fabbi, an analyst with Gartner Group Canada Inc. in Mississauga, Ont., said the 8000 fills an obvious hole in Nortel’s switching line.

“It clearly gives them something to compete with for the chassis-based workgroup switch. They really don’t have much left today.”

In the enterprise core, Fabbi expects the 8000 to go head-to-head with Cisco’s Catalyst 6000 family and Cabletron’s SmartSwitch Router.

Existing Catalyst 6000s are basically high-density Layer 2 switches that can handle some Layer 3 duty with the addition of a route switch module, Fabbi said.

But by the end of 1999, he said, there should be 6000s available with routing distributed out onto the line cards for faster throughput.

Cisco’s Catalyst 8500 Switch Router probably won’t compete in the same market as the Accelar 8000, Fabbi said, because of its relatively high per-port price. Instead, Cisco will probably position the 8500 in multi-service environments that include both IP and ATM, he added. Cisco customers looking for a core campus box for only frame networks will likely be encouraged to go with Catalyst 6000s.

Fabbi’s only criticism of the Accelar 8000 was the delayed availability of the Layer 3 blades. However, he doesn’t think the late release will hurt Nortel too badly.

“I think the only one that’s clearly ahead at this point is Cabletron’s SmartSwitch Router,” he said, “but Cabletron is obviously going through other challenges, so I don’t see the SmartSwitch Router stealing market share from Nortel or Cisco.”

The Accelar 8000 is available in six- and 10-slot chassis. WAN/MAN interfaces Nortel is developing for the 8000 include packet over SONET, ATM, long-haul gigabit and wavelength division multiplexing.

8000 pricing varies considerably depending on the configuration. A switch with 352 10/100Mbps Layer 2 ports and two gigabit Ethernet multi-link risers lists at under US$300 per port.

Nortel in Brampton, Ont., can be reached at 1-800-466-7835 or at

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