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Dell campus core switch faces uphill battle in market

Dell's latest campus core switch is expected to face tough competition from rivals Cisco and HP.

Dell has introduced a campus core switch that has the right features for mid- to large-scale networks, but in the view of some experts, lacks compelling capabilities to charm customers of rivals Cisco and HP.

This week, Dell unveiled the C9010 Networking Director switch and its companion, a campus access switch called the C1048 Rapid Access Node. Together, the latest C-Series switches provide the necessary infrastructure for wireless and wired users on the campus networks of healthcare providers, corporations, government agencies and educational institutions.

Organizations that buy Dell's latest networking hardware will get a "unified-campus architecture" centered on the C9010. The campus core's software provides the tools for policy provisioning, software upgrades and configuring, viewing and managing all ports.

"We can treat an entire building as one logical switch," said Jeffrey Baher, head of product and technical marketing at Dell Networking. 

Features of the C9010

Dell achieves network unity by having all C1048 switches send traffic from wired connections and wireless access points at the edge of the network to the C9010, which aggregates the traffic while performing its switching duties. The C1048 switches also execute commands and policies sent from the C9010.

Companies can connect switches from other vendors to the network. However, those switches will have to be managed separately, using the software that ships with the gear.

Many networking vendors require organizations to swap older switches for new ones to get advanced capabilities. For example, Cisco requires switch upgrades to take full advantage of its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), which is the company's flavor of software-defined networking (SDN).

The C9010, which comes in an 8 RU chassis, has a maximum throughput of 4.8 Tbps and is equipped with up to 248 10 GbE, as well as 60 40 GbE ports. The Director switch will initially support up to 2,000 virtual 1 GbE enhanced Power-over-Ethernet ports when connected to C1048 Rapid Access Nodes. Dell plans to upgrade that to 4,000 virtual ports in the first half of next year.  

Pricing for the C9010 Network Director chassis starts at $27,500, while the price of the C1048P begins at $5,299. The campus core switches will be available starting next month.

C9010 lacks unique features

The features in the C9010 put Dell on par with other switch makers. What they don't do is provide a compelling reason for companies to switch from other vendors, said Peter Christy, analyst at New York-based 451 Research LLC.

"Dell's moves are all in the right direction -- responsive to real market needs -- but, by themselves, probably not compelling reasons to abandon the market leaders," Christy said.

Dell believes its strongest advantage over competitors is lower operating costs, said Sean Michaud, product manager at Dell Networking.

"We focus on the operating costs more than simply the cost of the switch," Michaud said. Roughly 80% of the cost of a switch over its lifetime is in using the hardware, "so, when we offer a solution like this, we highlight how it helps them [organizations] save operating costs over time."

Dell's best chance of winning deals is in competing against HP for Cisco customers looking for less expensive hardware, said John Fruehe, analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, based in Austin, Texas. Companies that use mostly Dell servers would be the best candidates for the vendor's switches.

"I see Dell and HP being parallel as alternatives to the traditional network guys, like Cisco," Fruehe said.

Dell is a relatively small player in the global Ethernet switch market, which grew 1% in the second quarter year over year to $5.8 billion, according to IDC, based in Framingham, Mass. Cisco accounted for nearly 60% of the market, with HP following as a distant second at 9.5%. Rounding out the top five were Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., Juniper Networks Inc. and Arista Networks Inc.

Dell also introduced an S-Series data center switch called the S6100-ON. The multi-rate, modular, in-rack switch provides port speeds ranging from 10 GbE to 100 GbE. The hardware is available with QSFP28 and CXP ports.

The S6100-ON is designed for networks that support virtualization, cloud and big data analytics, said Dell. The switch is available with a Dell, Cumulus Networks or Big Switch Networks Inc. operating system. Dell plans to release the product in the first quarter of next year. Pricing would be available closer to the release date.

Dell introduced the products five months after launching the Networking X-Series of no-frills Ethernet switches for businesses with fewer than 1,000 employees. The X-Series comes with Web-based management tools that include step-by-step wizards, as well as a dashboard for configuring and troubleshooting the switching gear.

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