Enterasys jumps into switching fray

Cabletron Systems spinoff Enterasys Networks was formally launched this week with a new high-end switch that will be part of a new family of devices aimed at enterprise users.

Users can expect better performance and more scalability from the new Matrix switch than from its predecessor, the SmartSwitch, says Brady Cole, product manager for Enterasys' Matrix series. The Matrix switch family ultimately will replace the high-end backbone SmartSwitches.

Enterasys is one of four companies recently launched through the split-up of Cabletron. The other three companies are Riverstone Networks, Global Network Technology Services and Aprisma Management Technologies. Each of the companies was launched to focus on different network arenas, including service provider infrastructure, enterprise support and services, and network management software.

The new Matrix E7 switch features embedded Layer 2 through Layer 7 network capabilities and designated Application Specific Integrated Circuit network chips on each switch module to increase performance over traditional shared ASIC switch module designs. The Matrix E7 has a throughput rated at 100 million packet/sec, compared with the SmartSwitch's 25 million to 30 million packet/sec.

Enterasys plans to come out with another switch by year-end that can process up to 250 million packet/sec. Other boxes are expected to fill out the family, but details of those devices were not provided.

The Matrix E7 can accommodate more than 500 standard or Fast Ethernet ports and more than 80 Gigabit Ethernet ports in each chassis. The Matrix chassis can hold up to seven switch modules and two redundant power supplies. Switch throughput is rated at 100 million packet/sec. The closest competitors to the initial Matrix offering are Cisco's 6500 and 3Com's CoreBuilder 9000.

The Matrix E7 has a modular price scheme. The chassis costs $6,995, while individual switch modules are priced at $12,995 each. Each power supply (two are recommended for redundancy) costs $1,995. Volume shipping will begin this month.

For users looking at switches for Internet telephony (voice over IP), e-commerce or bandwidth-intensive applications such as enterprise resource planning, the Matrix switches could be a boon, even if those types of applications are still in the future, because it provides more headroom than older switches and performs at three times the rate of its predecessor, the SmartSwitch.

Cabletron should be able to make a successful play in the high end, which has traditionally been a strong market for the company, because of its strong service and support record with loyal customers, says Colin Hay, an analyst with Gartner Group.

Hay says Cabletron's strategy of splitting up its hardware, network management software and services organisations is a good one for customers who have heterogeneous networks with multiple vendors' technology installed, because it gives those groups a better chance of competing for business with companies that might not have considered them.

The Enterasys launch in New York was also a way for Cabletron to make some noise about its new strategy and spinoffs. Henry Fiallo, president of Enterasys, says splitting off divisions that were held closely together in the past will help each organisation focus on what it does best.

"We have the opportunity to think like a start-up," Fiallo says.

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