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Dell's new multigig campus switches built for wired, wireless LAN

Dell is pitching the open networking features of its new campus switches. The hardware's ability to run any of several network operation systems is a market differentiator.

Open switches that can run the operating systems of several networking vendors is what Dell EMC is hoping will...

eventually make it more than a niche player in the wired and wireless LAN access infrastructure market. To that end, Dell EMC introduced this week two campus switches featuring multigigabit Ethernet ports.

Companies that choose Dell's new N3132PX and N2128PX switches can combine them with the latest 802.11ac access point to get as much as 5 Gbps bandwidth on CAT5e and CAT6 cables used in most wireless LANs. Dell plans to start selling the switches in the spring.

Getting the most bandwidth out of a WLAN is important to satisfy companies that want to use the networks to replace less flexible wired connections. Increasing data rates on existing cables requires having switches and APs that support the IEEE 802.3bz standard ratified in September by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. The specification increases the data speeds on CAT5e and CAT6 cables from a maximum 1 Gbps to 2.5 or 5 Gbps.

Dell supports the standard in its latest campus switches and its W-Series 330 APs. The 32-port switches support connections of 10 and 100 Mbps. All the ports have 60-watt Power over Ethernet (PoE). The N3132PX also has 40 GbE uplinks.

Dell is pitching the openness of its switches as a reason for enterprises to consider its gear, which is sold mostly to small and medium-sized companies. The hardware can run the network operating system (NOS) of Dell or its partners Cumulus Networks, Big Switch Networks or Pluribus Networks.

The latest N series switches will make it possible for companies using the third-party NOSes on Dell data center switches to extend the fabric to the campus network. Having everything running on one NOS makes it easier to manage the switches through a single console.

Dell's challenge in selling opening campus switches

While that scenario might happen in the future, for now, Dell has an uphill battle. Enterprises are not convinced that open campus switches that separate the NOS from the hardware provide any advantages over products that tightly integrate the two, analysts said.

"It will be a while until network disaggregation [separating hardware and software] catches on in the campus with any critical mass," Nolan Greene, an analyst at IDC, said.

Nevertheless, the open networking pitch is likely "the best line of attack" in trying to grab market share from market leaders, said John Fruehe, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy based in Austin, Texas. "Not only is it something that the big guys are trying to stifle, but it is also something that differentiates Dell from the big guys."

Dell doesn't have much to lose from a market share perspective. In August, Gartner listed the vendor as a niche player in the wired and WLAN access infrastructure market.

In the worldwide Ethernet switch market, Dell EMC is not in the top five, according to IDC. In the third quarter of 2016, Cisco led the market with a 57% share followed by Huawei, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Juniper Networks and Arista Networks, respectively.

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