Force10 Strikes at Sonet
The company is releasing a 10-Gbit/s card -- four ports of OC48 -- for its E-series switches that's being targeted at older telecom networks.
OC48: Isn't that yesterday's yawner news?
The kicker is that Force10 claims it can give carriers that 10-Gbit/s card for half the cost of an equivalent blade from Cisco or Juniper.
The key is that Force10's E-series is an Ethernet box. It's been designed to provide a cheaper alternative to a full-blown IP router, and its interfaces are less expensive than the usual Sonet/SDH fare.
In going to Sonet/SDH, Force10 is using its usual Ethernet card, adorned with an interface that wraps Sonet/SDH traffic into an Ethernet envelope. Internally, the E-series then switches the traffic as if it were Ethernet, and translates it back to Sonet/SDH on the way out. Since the 4xOC48 card is Ethernet-based at its heart, it sells for $25,000 -- half the price of a comparable Juniper T-series card, Force10 claims.
In case you're wondering, Force10 didn't do a straight OC192 card because the multiple-OC48 market is larger. Plus, the 10-Gbit/s Ethernet WAN PHY interface is already defined to handle Sonet/SDH -- so, technically, Force10 already supports OC192.
This kind of thing never worked before for two reasons. First, Ethernet wasn't trusted enough in carrier networks. Jitter and latency weren't up to the standard set by Sonet/SDH. Ethernet has been getting beefed up, though, to counter this point.
Second, and more importantly, carriers weren't that concerned with the price of equipment. Sonet/SDH gear was expensive and worth it, because carriers prized five-nines reliability over cost.
Force10's hope is that the latter factor is melting away. Carriers need to make new services profitable while making the most of the installed Sonet/SDH infrastructure. Force10 is hoping they'll make do with less than a full-blown router if it means saving some capital expenditure.
"The price they can charge their customers is declining, and the price of that bandwidth isn't -- classic squeeze," says Andrew Feldman, Force10 VP of marketing. "For the first time, carriers are willing to trade features for price."
And there are spots in the network where that line of thinking works, according to Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with Yankee Group Research Inc. "If what you're looking for is something that's big, fast, and passes dumb packets," he says, "from an economic standpoint, it makes a lot of sense."
That doesn't mean it works everywhere, though. Cisco and Juniper are well ensconced in the world's largest carriers, and Force10 isn't likely to change that.
"To say this is going to change things overnight is a bit radical," says Kerravala. "It's not the death of routing yet."
The big guys agree. Well, sort of; Juniper declined comment. But the Juniper line of thinking probably echoes a Cisco spokesman's comment, namely, that carriers "are willing to pay for the feature set we provide."
But the Yankee analyst reckons there might be some slow creep towards Force10's way of thinking: "You'll see a gradual migration to this. What it's going to take is a couple of big-name carriers to bite."
But they probably won't be the conservative U.S. RBOCs -- they'd be the last of the carriers to try Force10's brand of Sonet, reckons Kerravala.
"Force10 and Foundry are pretty small -- you add them together, and you get maybe $500 million," Kerravala says. "But that's how change happens. One customer at a time, and one vendor at a time. That's how Juniper started."
Force10's Sonet/SDH card is in beta testing now, with general availability slated for August.
Meanwhile, Force10 says it's still enjoying revenue growth of 100 percent per year, and it's outgrown its original headquarters. Last week, the company finished a move to North San Jose, Calif., occupying a grandiose building next door to Redback Networks Inc. .
Which brings to mind... Whatever happened to that IPO? (See Sources: Force10's Prepping Its IPO.)
Officials won't comment, other than to say it's still in their plans. In general, sources note that between Sarbanes-Oxley rules and the ongoing stock-options scandal, the IPO process has gotten more difficult.
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading