Vendors take Ethernet to the next level

Several vendors last week announced or displayed upcoming products aimed at boosting Ethernet speeds tenfold in enterprise and service provider networks.

Though some of the 10 Gigabit Ethernet products previewed at NetWorld+Interop 2001 are anywhere from six months to a year away from delivery, they could be used to boost bandwidth across campus backbones and to support applications such as storage access over IP (Internet protocol).

Nortel Networks Corp. announced a two-port 10 Gigabit Ethernet module for its Passport 8600 switch intended primarily for metro-area service provider networks. The module will be available in early 2002, with pricing to be determined later this year.

The only vendor to announce pricing information on 10 Gigabit so far has been Foundry Networks Inc., with its single-port blade, which starts at US$45,000. Nortel officials indicated that this price will likely be the average for most vendors' entry-level products.

Nortel expects such high prices to scare off most enterprise customers.

"If you're a vendor trying to sell 10 Gigabit to an enterprise, and the customer sees a $50,000 interface, they're going to think you have rocks in your head," said Phil Edholm, chief technology officer for Nortel's Enterprise Solutions group, comparing 10 Gigabit Ethernet to where Gigabit Ethernet was in 1997 - almost non-existent in enterprises.

Hewlett-Packard is also getting into the 10 Gigabit Ethernet act. The company displayed a 10G bit/sec network interface card at its booth for its high-end HP 9000 N-class Unix server. The NIC, which is a year away from release, is being developed by Nortel's optical components group specifically for HP. The card supports optical connections ranging from 300 meters to 40 kilometers.

Target applications include Web servers attached to large optical Internet pipes. The card could also be used in an enterprise data center to attach an HP 9000 to a 10 Gigabit switch that aggregates Gigabit Ethernet uplinks from wiring closets. Very high-speed server-to-server data backup is another possible use.

The new NIC caught the eye of several show attendees, including Glen Dasmalchi, director of engineering at Chelsio Communications, a start-up that develops TCP/IP acceleration products. He said he could see using such a product for large Web servers that receive an enormous amount of hits per day.

Also at the show, Cisco had an OSR 7600 optical switch on display at its booth outfitted with a single-port 10 Gigabit module. A Cisco product manager said the blade could be used by metro-area network providers for aggregating Gigabit links to Ethernet WAN subscribers. The blade could also be used for accessing data from a storage-area network via IP in an enterprise. Release of the module is between four and six months away according to Cisco, with pricing to be determined at release time.

The company showed a Catalyst 6500 fitted with 10 Gigabith Ethernet technology earlier this year.

One Interop attendee said he anticipates the proliferation of 10 Gigabit, but isn't interested until interoperability is proven among vendors.

"They're still a year away from [ratifying] the standard," for 10 Gigabit Ethernet, said David Brock, an independent network consultant. "I only work with standards-based products."

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