With Cisco, Enterasys Networks, Extreme Networks, Foundry Networks and Force10 Networks having introduced switches this year that provide full-duplex 10G Ethernet throughput - and switching capacities in the T-bit/sec - Nortel has remained quiet. While the vendor was among those leading the charge toward 10G Ethernet several years ago, its product turnout has since cooled.
Although Nortel was among the first to talk about 10G Ethernet as early as 2001, it has fallen behind in the 10G race. The company currently offers single-port and dual-port 10G Ethernet modules for its Passport 8600. Competitors such as Cisco, Enterasys, Foundry and Force10 offer blades with four 10G Ethernet ports. Extreme unveiled a six-port 10G Ethernet blade along with its next-generation switch chassis platform.
According to Nortel, next-generation 10 Gigabit is on the way.
"Nortel is in development for a cost-effective, higher density 10Gig module for the PassPort 8000 platform," says Tammy Coleman, director of Ethernet switching marketing at Nortel.
While not getting into details, she says Nortel's plans are to provide an "evolution of the PassPort 8000 series" that provides backwards-compatibility.
"High-end enterprise switching is an area the PassPort is behind in," says Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with The Yankee Group.
"They're not only behind in product development, but also in mind share," Kerravala says. "I don't think when people are thinking of next-generation 10-Gigabit Ethernet that Nortel's name comes up all that often," he says. "That kind of business tends to go to the Foundries and Extremes and Cisco."
While Nortel might be behind the curve in high-end performance, Kerravala says it has such a wide array of products that the company still remains competitive to users looking for a single-vendor alternative to Cisco.
Nortel has such breadth in its product line - from switches, routers, telephony, security and optical - "that they don't have to be first to market to win deals," Kerravala says. "They would do better to sell Nortel switching as part of a whole infrastructure that can help lower the cost of IT," with such applications as IP telephony, or integrated LAN/WAN and metropolitan Ethernet networking, he adds.
Nortel is lagging in the high end because the company decided to focus on carrier sales between 1999 and 2000.
"They just didn't focus much on their enterprise data portfolio for a long time," Kerravala says. "They became mostly a TDM voice and optical company. And it's hard to blame them because those markets were so big just a few years ago."
But that's not to say Nortel has been asleep in the lab in terms of its enterprise offerings.
This year, Nortel released new gear in the areas of high-speed stackable LAN switching with the PassPort 5000 series, and new chassis products aimed at offering companies features for supporting IP telephony and integrated security, such as the PassPort 8300 with integrated PoE. The company also jumped into the wireless LAN switch market with the launch of the Security Switch 2250.
According to Synergy Research Group, in the second quarter of 2003 Nortel was in third place, behind HP and market leader Cisco, in the market for Layer 3 modular ports - a primary backbone application for the PassPort 8600.
The company also was a close second to Cisco in the Layer 4 to Layer 7 switching market, with 19% of port shipments, compared with Cisco's 38%. In 10G Ethernet, Nortel fell to fourth place, behind Cisco, Foundry and Extreme.
One Nortel user says the PassPort and BayStack lines provide more than enough bandwidth and features.
"They're already right there in terms of our network needs," says Bruce Meyer, director of network services for ProMedica Healthcare in Toledo, Ohio. ProMedica uses PassPort 8600s in the core of its LAN in its four hospitals, with Nortel BayStack switches at the edges. It also uses 10/100M bit/sec and Gigabit BayStack switches in its wiring closets to support office servers, such as e-mail, file and print, and medical imaging applications.
"There is a lot of redundancy built into [Nortel] switches, which I like," Meyer says.
One feature Meyer uses is the ability to have sub-second failover of Layer 2 switching on a PassPort 8600 management module. Another Nortel technology he uses is called Split Multilink Trunking, which lets Layer 2 Nortel boxes be hooked together with multiple, redundant links. This lets switches route around down links faster than the Layer 2 Spanning Tree Protocol.
Meyer says traffic-shaping capabilities is another area he's looking into with Nortel's Alteon-based Layer 4 to Layer 7 switch modules available for the PassPort 8600. He says this could be implemented as the hospital moves off a mainframe-based records management system.
"We would implement application acceleration on the PassPort [8600s]" to support the new patient records system, he adds, which will be based on IP, with Citrix Windows-based terminal infrastructure.
The fact that Nortel doesn't offer the latest 10G Ethernet is not a concern. "We don't have the need, or the budget for that yet," Meyer says.