Alcatel plays catch-up with 10G switches

Alcatel is expected to launch two switches targeted for corporate-backbone and data-center deployments, where Gigabit Ethernet links are either aggregated from stacks of LAN-edge switches in wiring closets or from racks of Gigabit-enabled servers.

The OmniSwitch 9700 switch is a 10-slot chassis, while the 9800 switch includes 18 slots. When configured with two redundant management modules and two fabrics, the boxes can hold as many as six and 14 service blades, respectively.

Both switches include IPv4 and IPv6 support on all port interfaces. The switch software also allows the device to tunnel IPv4 and IPv6 links together, allowing disparate networks running different versions of IP to connect. The devices come standard with full Layer 3 routing and complete protocol support - OSPF, RIP versions 1 and 2; and BGP.

The new OmniSwitches also support advanced virtual LAN (VLAN) configurations and multicast deployments, which can be useful when running redundant clusters of servers in a data center, with non-clustered machines. Alcatel's switch software allows for Layer 2 multicast broadcasting of packet streams to one or more VLANs; this allows some servers attached to the switch to receive the replicated packets, while others do not.

The new OmniSwitches are upgrades from previous OmniSwitch 8000 series chassis, and offer more switching capacity than the previous boxes.

The switches support standard QoS at Layer 2 with 802.1p traffic prioritisation. They could map Layer 3 Type of Service and DiffServ QoS settings to Layer 2 802.1p priority queues, which allowed prioritised traffic from different networks to maintain QoS settings, Alcatel said.

Analysts claim the products do not break new ground in terms of speeds and feeds. However, they do fill a void in Alcatel's high-end switching portfolio, and bring it up to the same level as competitors 3Com, Cisco, Nortel, Extreme, Foundry and others.

"It was a hole in [Alcatel's] portfolio, and it's an important thing for them to have," Burton Group analyst, Daniel Golding, said, regarding high-density 10 Gigabit Ethernet.

Industry watchers said 10G switch shipments are growing, as Dell'Oro Group expects shipments of 10G ports to grow from 174,000 ports in 2005 to 854,000 ports in 2006.

But this is still a small fraction of the market, which was around 276 million ports in 2004. In other words, analysts said, 10G was still a technology answer without a problem to solve.

"The only thing that's really going to push the need for 10G Ethernet ... are applications like desktop video," Burton Group's Golding said. "This is something that historically, IT departments have not been pushing."

Bandwidth drivers

However, drivers for more bandwidth could come as laptop computers, such as the latest Apple iBook, start shipping with built-in video cameras, and Gigabit ports become a standard feature on desktops.

"If you have cameras in every laptop, people may starting doing video conferencing from the edge, the same way instant messaging took off," Golding said. "Right now that's the best possibility . . . for an application that might drive [10G Ethernet]."

The OmniSwitch 9700 and 9800 are expected to be available in December, starting at $US4000 for a bare chassis and $US24,000 for a chassis with redundant management and switch fabric blades. Gigabit ports cost about $US583, and 10G ports cost about $US7240 with optics included.

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