Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY) today introduced its next generation of 10-Gigabit Ethernet line cards at the ComNet tradeshow in Washington, D.C. (see Foundry Touts 10-Gig Interfaces). According to the release, the company has improved its density of 10 Gbit/s by offering two ports on a single line card. The company also said it would slash its price on 10-Gbit/s Ethernet by 36 percent.
Foundry’s move to improve density and reduce its pricing follows on the heels of a similar announcement from startup Force10 Networks Inc. Last week, Force10 announced it was slashing prices on its dual 10-Gbit/s Ethernet port line card by 44 percent (see Force10 Slashes 10-GigE Pricing).
The startup, which designed its E1200 switch specifically for 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, has challenged Foundry and other established vendors, like Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR), with its performance claims and aggressive pricing. The startup so far has been the only vendor to demonstrate full line-rate packet forwarding at 10 Gbit/s, and currently it claims to have some of the least expensive 10-Gbit/s Ethernet interfaces on the market.
“Improving the density and the price point of the technology is important for the industry,” says Michael Howard, principal analyst and founder of Infonetics Research Inc. “Force10 took the lead with reducing the price, and it’s working. The others have to follow with price reductions, because their sales people are getting hit with it when they visit customers.”
But the price cut still doesn't cover certain performance issues in Foundry's 10-Gbit/s systems. The BigIron, NetIron, and JetCore FastIron chassis, which all support 10-Gbit/s line cards, do not actually forward packets at 10 Gbit/s. Because the backplane is limited in capacity, it only supports about 8 Gbit/s of throughput per line card. This means that a dual-port 10-Gbit/s Ethernet line card only has enough capacity to support 4 Gbit/s of throughput per port.
Chandra Kopparapu, director of product marketing at Foundry, argues that the dual-port 10-Gbit/s Ethernet line card can support line rate throughput in certain configurations where the backplane of the switch is not fully utilized. For example, he says that in a ring topology, the interfaces forward at line rate. In this configuration, one port acts as the ingress, while the other acts as the egress onto the ring. Because each line card utilizes local switching that avoids the backplane, it can forward packets at rates of 10 Gbit/s.
This is a likely application for service providers, which often use fiber from existing Sonet rings to deploy Ethernet in their metropolitan area networks. But some critics argue that most carriers don't have enough traffic demand in their metro rings to need a 10-Gbit/s Ethernet solution.
“Today, about 80 to 90 percent of the demand for 10-Gbit/s Ethernet is in the enterprise,” says Infonetics’ Howard. “Universities and grid computing researchers are the ones most interested in the technology right now. And most of those networks aren’t using ring configurations.”
Foundry’s Kopparapu agrees that service providers, particularly in the U.S., are not using 10-Gbit/s Ethernet yet, but he says that plenty of enterprises use ring topologies to connect campuses together. Kopparapu admits that Foundry needs to develop a next-generation chassis, and he says the company is working on one. But he argues that all this hype over line-rate performance is overblown.
“Sure, we have a new system in the works,” he says. “But I disagree with the presumption that our current product doesn’t compete. It may only have a backplane capacity of 8 Gbit/s, but that doesn’t mean that it is 20 percent less effective, or that it isn’t usable. Looking at just one aspect of performance is a superficial analysis.”
So how does Foundry’s latest 10-Gbit/s Ethernet line card stack up in terms of price? On a per port basis, with the 36 percent reduction, Foundry’s list price is about $38,500 per port. This includes $61,000 for the base module with two ports and $8,000 per port for the optics.
Compare this to Force10’s announcement last week. The startup is listing 10-Gbit/s Ethernet ports with 1,310 nanometer optics included for $31,000 or a street price of about $17,000, says Steven Mullaney vice president of marketing for Force10.
But comparing port prices alone is often deceiving. Kopparapu suggests comparing the cost of a total system. Below is an itemized comparison between the 15-slot BigIron 15000 chassis from Foundry and a 16-slot E1200 chassis from Force10. Both chassis are fully loaded with 14 line cards, each with two ports of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet interfaces.
|Foundry BigIron 15000 Solution||U.S. List||Quantity||Total|
|Redundant Power Supplies||$2,495||2||$4,990.00|
|2-port 10GbE (New 10GbE Line Cards)||$60,995.00||14||$853,930.00|
|LR XENPAK (Long-Range 1310nm Optics)||$7,995.00||28||$223,860.00|
|Force10 E1200 Solution||U.S. List||Quantity||Total|
|16-slot E1200 chassis, (Bundled solution) -- 6 fan trays, 2 DC Power Entry Modules, 1 Route Processor Module (ED), 9 Switch Fabric Modules||$110,000.00||1||$110,000.00|
|2-port 10-Gigabit Ethernet line card with 1310nm serial 10Km optics||$62,000.00||14||$868,000.00|
|Source: Foundry Networks and Force10 Networks|
This shows how the products differ in price structure. Foundry’s chassis is cheaper, coming in at a cost of about $29,000. Force10’s loaded chassis lists for $110,000. But in a fully loaded configuration, both units would cost about $1 million, with the Foundry system costing about $128,770 more for a fully loaded configuration of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet.
While most customers today probably wouldn't populate an entire chassis with 10-Gbit/s Ethernet interfaces, this comparison sheds light on the impact of the per port costs on deploying the technology.
“Even though Foundry’s solution may still be a bit higher than the competition, their announcement is still a big move for the industry,” says Howard. “There are a lot of companies -- enterprise and service provider -- interested in 10-Gbit/s Ethernet. And every time the prices are cut, more will try it out.”
— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading