Optical/IP Networks

Force10 Shows Off 10-GigE Switch

LAS VEGAS -- Networld+Interop -- Force10 Networks Inc., which has remained quiet up to this point, gave a glimpse of a 10-Gbit/s Ethernet switching product this week at the Networld+Interop trade show.

The Ethernet switching startup demonstrated its switch in the live 10-Gbit/s Ethernet interoperability demonstration [ed. note: where else?], sponsored by the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance (10GEA) (see Vendors Show Off 10-GigE at N+I).

The company hasn’t officially launched its product yet, but Force10 officials were boasting that it has the densest 10-Gbit/s switch on the market. With two 10-Gbit/s Ethernet interfaces per line card in a 14-slot chassis, the startup says it can support 28 10-Gbit/s Ethernet ports in half of a 7-foot telecom rack.

Nineteen different vendors participated in the demonstration, showing interoperability among them using four of the seven standard interfaces that are expected to be ratified by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) in June.

Force10 claims to be the only vendor on the market that can support full line-rate switching at 10 Gbit/s. Although he wouldn’t say exactly how much switch capacity is built into the box, Rob Quiros, director of product management, says the box accommodates at least 20 Gbit/s of throughput on each line card to provide full non-blocking switching.

The demonstration didn’t validate any throughput claims, because it was designed to show interoperability, says Mark Fishburn, chairman of the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance and vice president of technical strategy for test-equipment provider Spirent PLC (NYSE: SPM; London: SPT).

If all of Force10’s claims are true, however, it could take the lead in density and performance for an Ethernet plaform. Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY), which also participated in the demo, displayed its 15-slot BigIron chassis. The BigIron uses a one-port 10-Gbit/s line card and can accommodate a total of 14 10-Gbit/s Ethernet ports in half a rack. But its backplane only supports 8 Gbit/s of throughput per line card.

“We designed the BigIron back in 1998 before 10-Gbit/s Ethernet was even on the radar,” says Marshall Eisenberg, director of product marketing for Foundry. “When it’s fully populated, the switch will be 20 percent blocked. That’s just the limitation of the hardware.”

What’s more, Foundry is only offering the LAN PHY interfaces. This means that service providers using the gear can only use this in applications where Ethernet is running straight over fiber. Force10 offers both LAN PHY interfaces and also WAN PHY interfaces, which allow customers to transport 10-Gbit/s Ethernet over existing OC192 Sonet pipes. This means that the Force10 box can be hooked up to a DWDM system or Sonet add/drop multiplexer.

But it's important to note that Foundry has been shipping its 10-Gbit/s line cards for the past two quarters, whereas Force10 hasn't yet announced a customer. Foundry also has a strong customer base in many data centers and Internet service provider networks, which makes it easier to sell the new line cards into its already-installed products. The 10-Gbit/s module fits into any BigIron, NetIron, or JetCore FastIron product.

“Our customers don’t need a forklift upgrade to add 10 Gbit/s to their networks,” says Eisenberg. “They can just plug in the line card and it’s up and running.”

Force10’s Quiros promises that customers are on their way. He claims the company is working with providers in Asia and within the U.S. government and expects to have at least one customer by the end of the summer. Quiros also says that 2002 is the year that early adopters of 10-GigE will take a look at the technology and will only start to get their feet wet. He expects volumes to pick up in 2003.

The company, which started in 1999, has raised $168 million in funding from venture capital firms New Enterprise Associates (NEA), U.S. Venture Partners, and WorldView Technology Partners. It has also recruited an experienced team of executives from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) (see Force10 Plucks Cisco, Juniper Talent).

— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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