Extreme Intros 10-GigE Platform
The new product, codenamed "Mariner," is the first in a series of products that Extreme will be announcing using the company’s newly designed chipset, called the Fourth-Generation Networking Silicon System, or 4GNSS for short. This chipset, which uses a technology called T-Flex, is completely programmable, allowing customers greater flexibility in deploying new services, says Duncan Potter, Extreme’s vice president of marketing. It also offers customers greater investment protection, since they won’t be required to continue to do forklift upgrades to add new features, he adds.
The timing of this announcement is interesting because it closely follows announcements by three key competitors -- Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Foundry and Riverstone Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: RSTN) -- all of which have announced new 10-Gbit/s products in the last month (see Cisco Takes On 10 GigE Competition, Foundry Unwraps 'Mucho Grande', and Riverstone Fuels 10GigE Price War).
Some have wondered if Extreme’s announcement, which some had expected around the Supercomm 2003 tradeshow in June, was pushed up in response to competitive pressure.
“They’ve announced vaporware,” says Alex Henderson, an analyst with Salomon Smith Barney. “They told everyone that the product wouldn’t be out until the end of the year. It looks like they are just giving people a roadmap with this announcement.”
Not only had the company done no press tour for the launch of this product, but it also didn’t provide any data sheets or marketing material of the product at its booth yesterday.
Extreme’s Potter denies that announcements from its competitors prompted it to change its marketing plans. And he emphasized that the product was indeed real. In fact, a working prototype is in the company's booth here at the N+I tradeshow passing traffic as part of the event's backbone.
“We wanted to explain a coherent architecture for our fourth-generation ASICs,” he says. “And we needed to announce a proof-point of this technology, which is the Mariner.”
Still, some believe the company rushed Mariner out into the public a bit early. The company itself says the product won’t be available until at least the third quarter of this year.
Potter claims that the product is already in customer trials. But exactly how far along it is in the trial process is unknown. Jack Costanza, technology manager for the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a self-professed Extreme advocate, said in an interview at the beginning of April that he had chosen a solution from Riverstone -- in part because he was told by Extreme that its new product wouldn’t even go into beta sites until September or October of this year.
“That was just too late for us,” Costanza said at the time. “And I didn’t want to go with the existing 10-Gbit/s solution they offered.”
Potter says the company is taking its time getting Mariner out the door. And it appears that it won't be too far behind its competitors. Cisco and Foundry say they will also begin revenue shipments toward the third quarter of this year.
"We aren't going to rush this product out before its ready," he says. "We won't let our customers be the testbed for this product."
But there are also fundamental issues with Extreme’s approach in 10-Gbit/s Ethernet. Like Foundry, Extreme chose to develop a completely new platform from scratch, instead of adding onto its existing product. As a result, customers deploying the new gear will have to replace their existing switch with the new one. Also, the new 1-Gbit/s Ethernet and 10-Gbit/s Ethernet line cards are not backward-compatible with any other Extreme products. The same is true of Foundry’s new solution.
There are other problems as well. Extreme says it will be offering a six-port 10-Gbit/s line card -- the densest 10-Gbit/s line card announced by a vendor so far. Foundry and Cisco have each announced support for four-port line cards.
While Mariner may support six ports of 10 Gbit/s per card, each slot on the chassis only supports 20 Gbit/s worth of switching capacity, admits Potter. It doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out that customers get less than 4 Gbit/s worth of switching capacity on each port when all ports are used. And in reality, customers can only run two ports of 10 Gbit/s at full line rate.
Potter claims that the new ASICs and the design of the product allow a new switch fabric to be slotted into the switch when more bandwidth is needed. With these additions, he says the company will be able to support 60 Gbit/s to 80 Gbit/s per slot. He also says the six slot-line card allows customers the flexibility to oversubscribe the box.
What’s more, Mariner won’t even be supporting all of the new 4GNSS features in its first release. While yesterday’s announcement highlighted some key ASIC support features such as IPv6 and MPLS, the first version of Mariner won’t be supporting MPLS.
The company hasn’t officially published pricing on Mariner, but it did mention some ranges: Its press release says that an entry-level chassis is priced just under $50,000, and per-port pricing is below $8,000, excluding the optics.
At least one Ethernet switching vendor says he doesn’t see what the big rush to announce 10-Gbit/s products is all about. Mark Pearce, product marketing manager for Enterasys Networks Inc. (NYSE: ETS), says that he has seen very little demand for 10-Gbit/s from his customers.
“Ten GigE is not something that most enterprise customers are ready for yet,” he says. “I’m sure at some stage we will have to adjust our pricing and product features. But we’ll do it when we see market demand, and not because competitors are making announcements.”
Analysts tend to agree with this assessment, “Ten Gig is a niche market,” says Salomon Smith Barney’s Henderson. “I don’t think it will move the dial materially this year or even next year.”
— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading