Force10 Strikes at the Core
The company announced MPLS Label Switch Router (LSR) support for the ExaScale line of routers today. And Force10 has also told Light Reading it's working on packet/optical convergence, in the form of IP-over-DWDM interfaces.
MPLS has been planned for ExaScale since its launch in March; today's announcement amounts to the availability of the appropriate software. (See Force10 Thinks 'Exa' and Force10 Adds MPLS Features.)
ExaScale is a big ol' chassis that Force10 says can handle 100 Gbit/s per slot without oversubscription. Like most of Force10's gear, ExaScale's targets large data centers. But the company has always considered itself a contender for carrier networks, too, and ExaScale's MPLS powers can place it there, says Kevin Wade, Force10's senior director of product marketing.
That's not to say that ExaScale will drive the Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) CRS-1 or Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) T1600 into extinction. "We would not claim that this box could be placed at the core of a Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) network, for example," Wade says. "They have longstanding relationships with one or possibly both core router vendors. The kind of support they get is certainly more than what a smaller company could provide. That's the real barrier to us."
[Side note: Yes, one can argue that Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. count as core-router vendors, too. (See AlcaLu Readies 100GigE Cards and Huawei's Doing 100-Gig, Too.)]
Force10's pitch for the core is economics: The company's box is built strictly for Ethernet. So, in a newfangled, Ethernet-centric network, Force10 says ExaScale would be a cheaper and less power-hungry option than a fully loaded core router.
A box like the Juniper MX960 -- which Force10 considers a better direct comparison than the T1600 -- "has edge functionality," Wade says. "It also has Sonet interfaces. Our take on this is that it just drives up the cost of the hardware."
Another core-related piece being added is IP-over-DWDM, which Force10 might announce later this week. IPoDWDM is one approach toward packet/optical convergence, in which the router or switch assigns an ITU wavelength to an outgoing signal. This method would eliminate a transponder shelf from the network (and, of course, preserve the router's place in the network.)
That's the approach Force10 is considering, in conjunction with its newfound core-MPLS powers. Internet exchange carriers (IXCs) and even large enterprises "want to build out global MPLS networks for things like data center-to-data center interconnect and [do] it with an alien wavelength," Wade says. In other words, the IXC or enterprise would buy a wavelength on someone else's optical network to cover the span between data centers.
"We're building systems for WDM optimization into our 10-Gbit/s Ethernet cards to do that exact application," Wade says.
In the corner opposite IPoDWDM, optical vendors are pushing the idea of packet-optical transport systems (P-OTS), transport gear that's enhanced with packet-handling capabilities. (See Hitachi Preps P-OTS Box, Ciena Catches Packet/Optical Convergence Bug, Infinera: Thinking Packet-Optical?, and The Case Against IPoDWDM.)
— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading