Optical/IP Networks

Interop Roundup: Of Bits & Bays

LAS VEGAS -- Interop -- Another May, another Interop in Vegas. With the show now closed, it's time to recap some of the week's events.

Clearly, things weren't what they used to be at Interop. Here was the ominous sign that the enterprise networking show has lost some of its mojo: Its former home, the Las Vegas Convention Center, this year featured WasteExpo, where you can catch up on the latest technologies in the solid waste and recycling industries.

Interop has been moved to the smaller convention facilties at the Mandalay Bay. This led to some debate among a few employees of AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T) about the location of the real Mandalay Bay. We've looked into it. According to our research, in the real world, there is no such thing as Mandalay Bay. Mandalay is the second largest city in Burma, but it is not on the coast and does not have a bay.

Enough of the warped geography of Las Vegas. Despite its relocation, there was plenty of news at Interop. Here's a roundup of things being cleared out of our notebooks for the end of the week:

  • WAN Wannabes? By plan or not, this year's Interop came shortly after Juniper Networks Inc.'s (Nasdaq: JNPR) recent acquisitions in the enterprise market, which naturally became a hot topic on the Interop floor (see Juniper Takes Two: Peribit & Redline and Juniper's Kriens Stuck On Traffic).

    The group of companies that has most benefitted from that deal? It has to be the WAN optimization crowd, a heretofore niche market that now appears to be the focus of every investment banker from Menlo Park to Manhattan (see Peribit Deal: More to Come). Why the attention? Well, now that Juniper has made the deal, everybody's watching who Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) might be interested in purchasing as a counter-move.

    Several sources told us the obvious candidates include Expand Networks Inc., Packeteer Inc. (Nasdaq: PKTR), and Riverbed Technology Inc. But there are also are many others. A full story on this topic will be coming shortly -- stay tuned.

  • Ten Gig-E Workout: Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY) and Spirent Communications were busy pushing packets on their new 10-Gbit/s platform. Spirent teamed up to test Foundry's BigIron RX-16 Ethernet switch, announced Monday, with Spirent's SmartBits TeraMetrics 10-Gbit/s Ethernet test system, which launched in December (see Foundry Flashes New Hardware and Spirent Unveils 10-GigE Tester).

    Spirent's director of business development, Neal Roche, says Spirent's now got the most powerful 10-Gbit/s Ethernet test system on the market, because it can test a chassis loaded with as many as 96 ports, with IP router testing of as many as 32,767 streams per port.

    The demonstration maxed out with the SmartBits sending 1 billion packets per second through an RX-16 chassis carrying 64 10-Gbit/s Ethernet ports. The two companies claim this is an industry first.

    Foundry vice president Bob Schiff appeared to support Spirent's claims, saying he'd never seen a testing platform that could perform on that scale before.

    The Foundry/Spirent test, along with some new mudslinging among the 10-Gbit/s Ethernet players, appears to support the notion from several quarters that activity in the 10-Gbit/s Ethernet market is heating up (see Force10: Where's the Exit? ).

    "10-Gbit/s Ethernet is our hottest growth market," says Roche.

  • Agere's New Gears: Speaking of Ethernet, chip vendor Agere Systems Inc. (NYSE: AGR.A) was clearly hoping to make a big splash at Interop, holing up in some flashy private suite digs and bombarding folks with oversized multimedia presentations to talk about its new Ethernet chip family (see Agere Boosts GigE Performance).

    Agere exited the Ethernet chip market several years ago, but then it quietly plotted its reentry with the acquisitions of startups Messana and Terablaze (see Agere Goes Gaga Over Gig-E, Agere Acquires Terablaze, and Agere Buys Ireland's Massana).

    "This is our coming-out party," said Shankar Mukherjee, who is director of Agere's Ethernet Switch Center of Excellence and the former CEO and founder of Terablaze.

    The Ethernet chip family, which includes the ET3K Ethernet switch and the TruePHYTM 1081, are shipping within Taiwanese manufacturer Accton Technology Corp.'s new Gigabit Ethernet Lightly (EMS) and Fully Managed Switch (FMS).

    What's so special about Agere's new chip? According to Mukherjee, it is the first shipping chip product to support 48 ports of Ethernet on a single chip. Other suppliers -- meaning Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: VTSS) -- require two chips on a board to do that, says Mukherjee.

    But even Vitesse's present offering, a pair of cascaded 24-port switch chips, has some advantages over Agere's, asserts Martyn Humphries, the recently hired VP of Vitesse's Ethernet business (see Vitesse Hires Ethernet Chief). For one, Agere's is a "point product" as opposed to the broad selection of 5- to 24-port chips offered by Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL), or Vitesse. That could make Agere's chip a tougher sell.

    "We understand why they're doing it, but we don't understand the strategy of having just a 48-Gbit/s product," Humphries says.

    Vitesse's product is also less expensive, Humphries claims -- a key point since the 48-port switch finds its best audience among small-to-medium businesses that don't require boatloads of features. (By contrast, Broadcom and Marvell target the high-end enterprise with switch chips that carry fewer ports but more features.)

    For further Interop news, see:

    — R. Scott Raynovich, US Editor, Light Reading

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