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Alcatel rolls out true 10 Gigabit switches

Alcatel is the first vendor in the networking products market to offer Ethernet switches that offer true 10 Gigabit throughput, according to a Giga analyst.

It might seem like years before 10 Gigabit Ethernet is a necessity, but with graphics-intensive applications gaining in popularity and voice moving onto data networks, some companies may want to consider 10 Gigabit sooner rather than later.

Last month, Alcatel, the global communications products company based in Paris, released its OmniSwitch 8000 series for the core and its OmniSwitch 6000 series for the edge. These are the first true 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches to hit the market, said Stan Schatt, vice president of research with the Cambridge, Mass., research firm Giga Information Group.

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While there are a few 10 Gigabit switches available today, none of them actually provide true 10 Gigabit throughput. Those from Extreme Networks and other vendors all provide throughput of about 8 Gigabits, Schatt said. And while Alcatel has the highest throughput, Schatt said that is not the most important thing about Alcatel's new product. What is most important is its reliability.

Alcatel said that its new server line is functional 99.999% of the time, an important benchmark of reliability. Schatt said that other vendors on the market may have servers that offer comparable reliability, but none of them have been willing to put their names behind it yet.

That extremely high level of reliability is important because data networks will soon be supporting voice traffic. (Voice over Internet protocol is another key part of Alcatel's business.) With 99.999% up time, networks should be down about eight minutes out of the year.

That is exceptional reliability for a data network, but users have high expectations when it comes to voice traffic. Unlike data, voice systems do not go down, users expect them to work all the time, and that is what Alcatel is shooting for.

Yves Vincent, director of product line management for Alcatel, said that one of the keys to the server's reliability is its fast the fail-over time. If the server goes down, it will switch to another server within 300 milliseconds. That is fast enough that users will not notice any disruption of service even on voice applications, Vincent said.

That focus on integration of voice and data is a big part of why Scottsdale, Ariz.-based American Founders Life Insurance Co. chose to deploy Alcatel's system. Glen Pedersen, manager of voice and data communications for the company, said that when his company moved into its new office, he wanted to install 10 Gigabit Ethernet.

Right now the company is using a traditional phone system. Pederson said that the applications that he needs to run his call center are not yet available for voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems. But he expects to make the switch at some point in the not-so-distant future, and when he does, he wants a network that will allow him to have high-quality voice communications.

The company uses graphics-intensive software for its telemarketing unit. And its accounting software is similarly bandwidth hungry, so jumping to 10 Gigabit seemed like a prudent move.

Another reason Pedersen chose to go with Alcatel is because of its financial position. Schatt said that Alcatel and Cisco Systems Inc. are the two most financially stable infrastructure vendors in the industry. In today's economic climate where even market-leading companies are succumbing to scandal and bankruptcy, financial stability is important criteria to consider when choosing a vendor.

While Pederson admits that the company is hardly desperate for all the bandwidth available on a 10 Gigabit network, he sees the 10 Gigabit switches as an important step in preparing for future growth. In the last five years the company's network grew from 24 nodes to 125 nodes. He said that in a few years he will need much more bandwidth than he is using today. With a 10 Gig system, he is sure that he will not have to tear out his network and start over any time soon.

The OmniSwitch 6000 series starts at $2,785 and the 8000 series starts at $41,000.

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