Vendors eye cheaper switching at net edges

Foundry Networks Inc. and Extreme Networks Inc. this week separately announced edge-switching technology that promises users lower costs and improved functionality.

San Jose-based Foundry is introducing two FastIron Edge X-Series rack-mounted switches that offer 10 gigabit Ethernet uplink capabilities to core networks at a price of US$3,250 per port. That’s about half the cost of chassis-based switches, Foundry officials said.

Extreme in Santa Clara, Calif., is announcing that its Unified Access architecture and Power over Ethernet capability will be extended to its Alpine 3800 series switches, which can be used in small core networks or on network edges. Extreme has offered Unified Access since last April on its Summit 300 edge switches to provide wired and wireless access on a single device that also supports Power over Ethernet. That frees IT managers from needing to have separate infrastructures for wired and wireless LANs.

Edge switching accounts for about 40 per cent of all switch revenues, said Joel Conover, an analyst at Current Analysis Inc. in Sterling, Va. He added that there’s a constant need for innovation at the edges of networks to keep up with new technologies in desktop PCs and other end-user devices.

The Information Sciences Institute (ISI) at the University of Southern California this week plans to begin testing Foundry’s new X424 and X448 switches inside 12 wiring closets, using the devices to connect 350 PCs to a data center in Marina del Rey, Calif. ISI is running 10 gigabit Ethernet between the wiring closets and the data center, said Richard Nelson, the institute’s director of computing.

“We’re always looking for innovation,” Nelson said, pointing to the need to provide high bandwidth to computers that are linked for research into grid computing and the idea of interfacing computer chips with biological tissues.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has connected 20 wireless access points to Extreme’s Summit 300 switches, partly to take advantage of their power over Ethernet capability, said IT director Leo Ballate. He added that the Unified Access architecture also provides security and administration features on the switches and not in the access points, which are more vulnerable to hacking. Because Unified Access will now be available on the Alpine product line, Ballate said he would consider moving to those switches as the museum grows, but not for a couple of years.

Max Flisi, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, said sales of 10 gigabit Ethernet ports saw a “huge uptick” in last year’s fourth quarter. Shipments totaled about 5,000 ports, four times the third-quarter level, according to Flisi.

But he added that the technology remains a “drop in the bucket in terms of the larger switch market” and questioned how many companies need 10Gbps throughput now. “I’m skeptical as to the extent this will be used, but it’s future-proofing your network,” he said.

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