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Alcatel lures customers preparing for 10 GigE

Alcatel's new line of multipurpose Layer 3 stackables is intended to ease the 10 Gigabit Ethernet transition, but reasonable features at a modest price may not be enough to steal market share from Cisco.

Looking to seize its share the burgeoning 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch market, Alcatel today is unveiling a trio of Layer 3 stackables for workgroups and enterprise network aggregation.

The Paris-based networking equipment maker's new OmniSwitch 6800 series is intended to aid companies transitioning to Gigabit Ethernet on the desktop by providing a flexible line of devices that support VLANs, Host Integrity Check and other data security features.

The workgroup-friendly 6800-24 offers 24 triple-speed Ethernet copper ports and four combination ports for either copper or fiber. Using a 40 Gbit stacking bus, up to eight of the switches can be integrated in a single stack.

Its sister device, the 6800-48, provides 48 ports, four combo ports and space for one or two optional 10 Gigabit Ethernet uplinks, which will be available early next year. With support for up to eight pairs of 10 GigE uplinks, a stack of the devices will eventually be able to offer an uplink capacity of as much as 160 Gbps.

A third model, the 6800-U24, features 24 small form-factor pluggable (SFP) connectors that enable 1000baseX Gbit fiber over Ethernet, as well as four combo ports serving either copper or fiber and an optional pair of 10 GigE uplinks. It can either aggregate up to 24 workgroups on a core switch, or act as the core in a smaller environment with 10 GigE connections to a server.

Brian Witt, Alcatel's director of product marketing, said it's only a matter of time before Gigabit Ethernet to the desktop is ubiquitous in the enterprise, but he admitted that each company's evolution is different, making flexibility essential for today's gear.

"We think network managers are going to want to upgrade to this type of gear eventually, either for the bandwidth, security or mobility, but they may want to start with a lower capacity uplink," Witt said. "With this release, you can start with combo ports, and then you can go to a single 10 GigE or dual 10 GigE uplinks."

In an attempt to differentiate itself from competitors, according to Witt, Alcatel is combining 10 GigE support with higher port densities and stackable Layer 3 switches, supporting a wide range of migration paths as companies evolve their network backbone and aggregation models.

Companies are beginning to shift from Layer 2 to Layer 3 devices, he said, because Layer 3 products are better able to provide advanced security services at the edge of the network, which are becoming more important as a wider range of mobile -- and potentially dangerous -- devices interact with the network.

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Max Flisi, research analyst with International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass., said the new switches serve to flesh out Alcatel's portfolio to attract some of the many enterprises expected to upgrade to 10 GigE-capable switches in the near future.

"It's growing healthily right now," Flisi said, "and a number of vendors are starting to come out with 10 Gigabit Ethernet support in fixed and/or stackable configuration formats, not just in the chassis format that has primarily been what we've seen up to this point."

Flisi said the new line fits well with Alcatel's strategy, which has traditionally been to provide decent performance and features at the lowest possible cost. However, like most enterprise networking vendors, he said Alcatel's success will depend on how customers grade this line against competing products from Cisco Systems Inc., such as Cisco's Catalyst 3750 Series.

"[Alcatel] tells a good story about wanting to be the provider for a company's entire IP communications house," Flisi said. "There's still a large distance between them and some competitors above them, and I think that competing on price and performance is not going to be enough for them to get back market share."

Pricing for the three devices ranges from $4,495 to $7,495, and all are available immediately. The optional two-port 10 Gigabit Ethernet module will be released in February, and will be priced at $4,995.

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