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Extreme's 100G Packs a Cloud Trick

Craig Matsumoto
News Analysis
Craig Matsumoto
11/13/2012
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Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR) introduced a four-port 100Gbit/s blade for its BlackDiamond X8 core switch on Tuesday, and a blade with 12 ports of 40Gbit/s as well -- but there's an interesting element beyond the raw speeds.

Extreme is outfitting these blades, which go under the family name XL, with what it calls a unified forwarding table -- ternary content-addressible memories (TCAMs) that can be partitioned by operators.

TCAMs store routing tables in routers and switches, telling equipment where to send packets. But they're usually indexed for a particular type of information -- Layer 3 packet headers, for instance. Extreme is letting customers partition parts of the chips to fit different data types.

Extreme is showing off the XL modules this week at the SC12 supercomputing show in Salt Lake City. The company is also demonstrating support for Big Tap and Big Virtual Switch, the network monitoring and provisioning applications announced by Big Switch Networks Tuesday morning.

Why this matters
Highly virtualized environments, such as data centers for cloud services, need lots of TCAM entries in order to scale. Extreme is feeding that need by making these TCAMs big, storing 1 million addresses compared with the 128,000 storable on Extreme's 20-port 40Gbit/s modules.

These memory chips don't come cheap, so operators could be interested in partitioning them to use them more efficiently, Extreme officials say.

There's a software-defined networking (SDN) angle too. (Isn't there always?) OpenFlow needs large TCAMs, so bigger sizes and greater flexibility could prep the BlackDiamond for an OpenFlow-heavy deployment, if customers start showing interest in such things.

By the way: Four ports of 100Gbit/s isn't exactly shabby either, and Extreme is doing it with CFP2 modules, the smaller successors to the CFP standard. Figured we should mention that.

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— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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