Force10 Networks has launched the ExaScale E-Series, a new family of high-powered switches with routing capabilities aimed at helping large data centers manage virtualized infrastructure and move into cloud computing.
The new hardware follows last month's announcement of Force10's Virtualization Framework, a suite of network management middleware aimed at automating and simplifying the provisioning of networks for virtualized servers and storage. Force10's goal is to create a network infrastructure that allows data centers to move toward cloud computing by allocating servers, storage and networks as services supporting applications.
Virtualization Framework includes technology that helps organizations manage and provision both physical and logical networks for virtualized servers. It also provides real-time analysis and policy-based resource allocation capabilities. This middleware is designed to integrate with third-party systems management vendors, particularly Force10's partners Cassatt and VMware, to make the job of managing networks for virtualized infrastructure much simpler.
"We have a focus around software as well as hardware," said Steve Garrison, Force10's vice president of marketing. "Some of this was rebranding from existing features, but it also shows that we have a vision for how to climb the hill in the data center with a different story and with a different path up that hill than Cisco."
Moving into cloud computing puts tremendous strain on the network. When applications are virtualized across resources, they become much more sensitive to latency and packet loss. Zeus Kerravala, vice president at Yankee Group, said the ExaScale switches are some of the first switches designed for moving server workloads around a data center with a high-density Ethernet fabric that has an almost Infiniband quality.
"Lossless fabric and low latency are key because you can't drop packets at all [in virtualized infrastructure]," Kerravala said. "And traditional Ethernet was not designed to support these requirements, so we're talking about overcoming challenges that we didn't have to deal with before. In the past, most applications on Ethernet were pretty resilient, but when you start talking about allocating compute resources [with virtualization], if you drop a packet, the application breaks."
The new ExaScale E1200 half-rack and E600 one-third-rack chassis-based switches are the second phase in Force10's strategy for building networks capable of supporting large-scale server virtualization and cloud computing. These high-powered core switches, combined with Force10's Virtualization Framework software, should help data centers dynamically allocate virtual machines across the physical infrastructure.
The ExaScale E1200 is capable of forwarding more than 2 billion packets per second with usable switching capacity of 2.8 terabits per second and with a capacity for 140 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports. The ExaScale switches also offer investment protection with slot data capacity of 100 gigabits per second, making the devices ready for 100 GbE ports when they arrive on the market.
"When you're talking about virtualization and server mobility, you need a lot of bandwidth in order to move virtual machines around from rack to rack and from row to row, and this is clearly a big switch," said Abner Germanow, senior research director at IDC. "I think the challenge everybody is facing right now is that question of how do you deal with server mobility, and how does the network enable server mobility while also enabling data center managers to secure, segment and monitor where the virtual machines are going."
Germanow said it is clear with Virtualization Framework that Force10 has worked with VMware on integrating network management with virtualization.
"I think what's interesting is [that] the evolution of XML-based command-and-control middleware into the infrastructure is something a number of people are working on, but when you look at where Force10 has gone with it, the ability to reprovision and deal with change in a data center is something they've been living on the front lines of for the last eight years."
The ExaScale devices also have routing capabilities. They can create secure tunnels across MPLS wide area networks to connect the core directly to other data centers.
"In general, anyone who's looking at [these switches] is looking at very high density," Germanow said. "Are they going to use it as a router for extending the data center into the WAN? They're going to look at it."
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