Optical/IP Networks

Alcatel Ups 10GigE Density

(NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) is upping the ante with its latest Ethernet LAN switch, but the company won't be challenging the largest of the Ethernet boxes just yet.

The company today announced the OmniSwitch 9000 series switches replacing the OmniCore 8000 line as Alcatel's biggest core-LAN boxes. (See Alcatel Intros OmniSwitch.) The systems's maximum capacity will reach 48 ports of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet or 192 ports of Gigabit Ethernet.

That's less than the 64 ports packed in the Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY) BigIron RX-16 and well behind the 244 ports that can be crammed into Force10 Networks Inc.'s E1200 line. Both companies trotted out product launches this year to increase 10-Gbit/s density. (See Foundry Flashes New Hardware and Force10 Gets Dense.)

But Alcatel officials note they aren't shooting for Force10 kinds of numbers. The OmniSwitch series -- descended from the works of Packet Engines, acquired in 1999 -- targets the normal LAN environment, not the supercomputer kinds of installations Force10 chases. (Not every Packet Engines product has enjoyed this longevity; to open old wounds, see Alcatel's Packet Engines Break Down, Alcatel Settles with Daines, and Bernard Daines.)

"We're more directly aligned with Foundry and BigIron" than with Force10's biggest machines, says Guillaume Ivaldi, Alcatel's design manager for the 9000 line. The OmniSwitch 9000 does have a 1.92-Tbit/s backplane, which gives it room to grow. "They're not on par with Force10 or Foundry today, but they could be," says Steven Schuchart, an analyst with Current Analysis.

Alcatel offers some promising features in terms of security and policy-based networking, Schuchart adds, noting that Alcatel has freed up resources for software by deciding to use off-the-shelf chips. Specifically, the OmniSwitch 9000 line runs on Broadcom Corp.'s (Nasdaq: BRCM) latest Ethernet switch chip, the Strata XGS III, introduced early this year. (See Broadcom Unveils StrataXGS III.)

Early modules for the 9000 series will include 24-port Gigabit Ethernet cards for fiber or copper, and a two-port 10-Gbit/s Ethernet card. A six-port 10-Gbit/s Ethernet card -- the way to get that 48-port configuration mentioned above -- is slated for later availability.

The first model available is the 10-slot OmniSwitch 9700, slated for general availability in mid-December. The 18-slot OmniSwitch 9800 is being planned for later delivery.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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