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Oracle launches super-dense 10 Gigabit top-of-rack switch

With very little fanfare, Oracle has launched a 72-port 10 Gigabit Ethernet top-of-rack switch, blowing other solutions out of the water. The switch is part of Oracle's strategy to integrate everything from applications and servers to network and storage.

Oracle, a company most networking pros think of as "those database guys," has quietly raised the bar for top-of-rack data center switching by launching a 72-port 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) switch in a 1RU form factor. Really? Oracle?

Oracle is primarily an enterprise software company, although it did acquire some hardware chops by picking up Sun Microsystems. But Sun is mostly known as a server and storage vendor, so why has Oracle put out such a powerful top-of-rack switch -- succinctly named Sun Network 10 GbE Switch 72p?

In a world where most vendors produce 24-port top-of-rack switches and a few push the limits with 48 ports, 72 ports is quite a leap. Dimitrios Dovas, director of product management at Oracle, said the company built the switch primarily to enable the deployment of highly integrated multi-rack clusters of its storage and server technology.

"We checked in the market to see what [switches were] available for building very large, fully integrated solutions, and at this point in time we haven't seen anything that comes close to what we need," Dovas said. "What we wanted to do was maximize efficiency when a customer deploys full Oracle systems, from application to disk, in a clustered environment. Also, we were thinking about how we can effectively and efficiently extend the reach of our servers and blades. Our blade solution becomes even stronger now, having this kind of switch of fabric where we can have multiple blade solutions connected together."

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The Oracle top-of-rack switch -- with its $79,200 list price -- enables enterprises to cluster racks of servers and/or storage together with a single switch, replacing three 24-port switches or two 48-port switches. Replacing two or three Cisco or Force10 switches with one could save an enterprise serious money. The question is, will enterprises want to buy top-of-rack switches from Oracle rather than an incumbent vendor?

"Seventy-two ports of 10 gig is industry-leading. However, while it is industry-leading, I don't believe it is market-leading. Oracle has very little presence in the networking space, and one product does not a vendor make," said Zeus Kerravala, distinguished research fellow with Yankee Group. "If Oracle wants to seriously be in the networking industry, they could easily acquire a Force10, Brocade or Voltaire. It would behoove them to do so. The network is a very important part of the cloud, which is part of Oracle's broader strategy."

Enterprises that are looking to interconnect Sun servers and storage and are buying into the Sun architecture in certain pockets of their data center will naturally consider the Sun Network 10 GbE Switch 72p, "but I wouldn't use it more broadly than that," Kerravala said.

Is the Oracle data center infrastructure really network oriented?

Despite launching an apparently impressive piece of networking equipment, Oracle has done very little so far to market the product to networking pros. The top-of-rack switch was announced in conjunction with a refresh for the Sun server portfolio June 28, but it appears to have been lost in the shuffle. None of the networking industry analysts contacted by had been briefed by Oracle, and no related press release could be found on Oracle's website.

Oracle focused much of its initial marketing and analyst outreach toward the data center and server industries, Dovas said. Considering the power struggle between systems and networking teams in the data center, that may not be a great sign.

According to an FAQ on Oracle's website, the switch is "tightly integrated with Sun's standard server management interface, ILOM for initialization and physical management within Oracle Enterprise Manager."

That apparently not only gives management control to the systems team, but it also isn't heavily convincing to networking teams, which tend to go with one source when it comes to their equipment. "People don't tend to buy switching piecemeal. They buy all their gear from one company, or they break it up between edge and data center. They tend not to buy some data center switching here and some data center switching there," said Steve Schuchart, principal analyst for enterprise network systems at Current Analysis.

On the flip side, Cisco was similarly criticized for making its Unified Computing System (UCS) data center infrastructure too network centric.

"Cisco UCS is more about providing a virtualized infrastructure based on a very powerful network fabric," Dovas said. "Ours is more than that. We add on top of this the best of applications, databases and having an endpoint management solution that can manage the whole thing."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

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