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High-density, low-cost 10 GigE offering could attract enterprises

A new line card by Force10 Networks expands the number of available 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports to 224 on one system. While considered mostly for the data center market, some analysts say enterprises will soon take notice.

Force10 Networks has beefed up its 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) offering, quadrupling the density to 224 ports in a single system, and some analysts said that boost, coupled with a slash in costs, could start raising eyebrows in the enterprise space.

Milpitas, Calif.-based Force10 this week announced that it has upped the ante to include 16 10 GigE ports per chassis-based line card for its TeraScale E-Series. With the announcement, Force10 hopes to make 10 GigE more attractive not just inside, but outside the data center.

"The key here is that this broadens the market for 10 Gig," said Andrew Feldman, Force10 vice president of marketing. "More and different people will be able to use it."

Feldman said the cost runs about $2,700 per 10 GigE port, compared to roughly $2,900 per port for a stackable switch and $6,567 per port for a modular switch/router.

For a chassis that holds 14 line cards, that means 224 available ports, Feldman said. Comparatively, Cisco Systems Inc. offers four ports per card in seven slots, for a total of 28 ports. Others like Foundry Networks and Extreme Networks offer 64 and 48 total ports, respectively.

"Cisco is the big player, and we're eight times their density," Feldman said. "Density is a key buying criteria."

Feldman said higher capacity servers are generating traffic greater than one gigabit per second, causing a bottleneck between the server and the switch. Force10's new 16-port 10 GigE card lets managers directly connect to the servers to guarantee line-rate throughput between the servers and the TeraScale E-Series. This allows managers to extend the reliability and performance from the core of their networks to the edge.

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Steven Schuchart, senior analyst with Sterling, Va.-based Current Analysis, called the increase in ports and drop in price "evolutionary, not revolutionary," and said the technology will likely only be useful to those in the high-performance market.

However, Schuchart acknowledged that "at the end of the day, for the enterprise it's an interesting development. It's going to generate interest in the enterprise."

Robert Whiteley, analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., agreed.

"Really, it boils down to those building grid computing/networks, research facilities, and the high-end Web folks like Google and Yahoo," he said. "But we see an increasing desire for enterprises, especially financial services and government, to build grid computing as well. To date, this tends to be on specialized Ethernet gear, but we feel that Force10 can definitely capture this market with the new price points."

Force10's reduced cost of 10 GigE will likely prompt other vendors to lower their prices, Schuchart said. Eventually, if a solid business-class model is introduced, Schuchart said, businesses will take notice.

"It's going to make 10 GigE a little more real in the eyes of the enterprise buyer," Schuchart said. "It's going to attract attention. This is something that should give enterprises a heads-up."

Schuchart said companies should watch for low-cost 10 GigE products and evaluate if it would be possible to incorporate them into their networks.

"It's not just enough to be bigger, faster and better," Feldman said, noting that companies also want a reliable system that won't fail and that can withstand an attack.

Force10 is positioned to be the leader in high-end, 10 GigE switching, Whiteley said. "Although this is a bit of a niche application today, I would liken it to Juniper's initial position when it cracked the analogous Cisco router nut. If -- and it's a big 'if' -- Force10 can focus on this market, it should be able to innovate enough to stay ahead on the price/performance curve."

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