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New Dell switches offer end-to-end 1/10/40 GbE campus networking

Two new series of Dell switches and OEM Aruba access points give the vendor an end-to-end campus networking portfolio.

Dell announced a complete refresh of its campus networking portfolio with new modular core switches, fixed and stackable access switches, and 802.11ac wireless LAN access points.

The C-Series, including the C7004 and the C7008, are 1/10/40 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) chassis switches designed for the campus core and aggregation layers. The C7008 has a maximum throughput of 1.536 Tbps and supports up to 48 by 40 GbE, 192 by 10 GbE or 312 enhanced Power over Ethernet ports. The new switches replace Dell's legacy C Series, which the company inherited with its acquisition of Force10 Networks. The C Series runs Force10 Operating System (FTOS), Dell's data center switch operating system.

The N-Series is a new family of campus access switches that will eventually replace Dell's PowerConnect switches, a line of midmarket network gear that predated the Force10 acquisition. The N-Series comprises stackable 1/10 GbE switches that run a Linux kernel rather than FTOS. However, Dell has developed a front-end command-line interface and GUI that is consistent with the FTOS experience, ensuring that customers who already know Dell switches will be able to manage the new devices.

The new switches give Dell a family of high-performance switches that support 10 GbE all the way to the access port. "If Force10 had made campus stuff all along, this is what it would have looked like," said Bob Laliberte, senior analyst with Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group.

The W-Series of 802.11ac access points are based on the latest APs from Aruba Networks Inc., Dell's wireless OEM partner.

The three new product lines are Dell's attempt to support the transition toward a highly mobile, wireless campus network with high-bandwidth cores, Laliberte said. "This is well-timed for what's going on in the market," he said. "Our latest research shows that organizations are rapidly moving to 10 GbE [in the campus core and aggregation layer]. Only 20% of companies we surveyed said they are Gigabit Ethernet and not [upgrading]."

Linux as a switch OS

Dell's N-Series switches run a Linux kernel that has been modified with some of the networking features of FTOS, including Virtual Link Trunking (Dell's version of multilink aggregation), FTOS CLI and OpenFlow support, according to Arpit Joshipura, vice president of Dell Networking.

The use of Linux allows the N-Series to be highly programmable and customizable.

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"That's exactly where we're heading," Joshipura said. "You've got APIs [application programming interfaces] that allow you to very quickly open it, program it and script it. SDN and programmability on the campus network side is in the early stages. It's not as mature as in the data center. But use cases are starting to show up. We want to ensure that this is an architecture and product family that is there for the next three to five years."

It may seem counterintuitive for the C-Series and N-Series to have different operating systems, but Joshipura said this approach is by design. The N-Series' Linux kernel has the FTOS CLI and GUI, which ensures that the experiences of managing the two switch families are identical. Furthermore, Dell views the campus core as a relative extension of the data center network, which necessitates that it have the same set of features and functions as a the FTOS-based switches in the data center.

"The C-Series can be thought of as an extension of the data center because, from a workload and use perspective, all it's doing is switching and routing traffic that is already aggregated and enforced from a policy perspective. All the hard work is being done by the W-Series [APs] and the N-Series [switches], as close to users as possible. We felt that a data center operating system can work quite well in the campus core layer," Joshipura said.

Linux "makes tremendous sense as an embedded operating system for networking," said Eric Hanselman, chief analyst for New York-based 451 Research. "We've come a long way from the dedicated real-time environments that were needed when we had centralized processors doing low-level packet control."

With merchant silicon from Broadcom and Intel making path-forwarding decisions, centralized processors can take a step back and have a more management-focused role with Linux, he said.

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