Extreme Goes for Ethernet Glory

Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR) is trying to pull a Usain Bolt on the carrier Ethernet market, hoping a new monster version of the BlackDiamond switch family, being unveiled Monday, will leave Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) eating its dust.

The BlackDiamond 20808, due to ship in December, boasts some big-number stats, including the ability to carry 64 10-Gbit/s Ethernet ports in one third of a 7-foot rack -- four times the density of the BlackDiamond 10808. It's also got a 2-Tbit/s switch fabric that Extreme plans to boost to 5 Tbit/s.

And on paper, it's capable of supporting 120 Gbit/s of traffic on each card slot, compared with 40 Gbit/s for its competitors.

"They're leapfrogging other vendors in a really big way. It's impressive," says Infonetics Research Inc. analyst Michael Howard.

Big numbers aside, the other key to the 20808 is Extreme's support for Provider Backbone Bridging - Traffic Engineering (PBB-TE, also called PBT), which some believe can replace Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) as the transport mechanism for Ethernet in metro networks. (See Extreme Launches PBT.)

Extreme officials say this box was purpose-built for metro PBB-TE traffic. That might put the company second to Ethos Networks Ltd. when it comes to who shipped PBB-TE-built gear first, but Extreme doesn't mind; the BlackDiamond 20808's size puts it in a market separate from Ethos's. (See Ethos Claims First.)

The box's density is one reason it had to be "purpose-built," according to Peter Lunk, senior director of marketing for Extreme's service provider group. "We wanted an approach that would get us to multiple 40- and 100-Gbit/s ports," Lunk says.

What's so special about being purpose-built? The opposite case would be something like the Cisco 7600 or Juniper MX960, which can do Ethernet transport but are also built to accommodate other functions. "There are a lot of cost elements that we wouldn't be able to take out" if it weren't purpose-built, says Mark Showalter, Extreme's director of service provider marketing.

Extreme claims the results can be seen in the price of the BlackDiamond 20808, at $5,800 per 10-Gbit/s Ethernet port. "The closest competition, we think, is going to be Cisco at a little more than $10,000 per 10-Gbit/s Ethernet port," Lunk says.

Then there's that slot capacity, a big part of what Howard is calling Extreme's leapfrogging factor. Extreme can take 120 Gbit/s from each linecard, trumping the 40 Gbit/s that competitors have reached so far.

The 20808 is also Extreme's first cut at a midplane architecture, where the linecards sit in the front of the box and the switching cards in the back.

"You can scale a product more easily" with that arrangement, Howard says. "You separate the linecards from the heavy-duty processing."

That's one factor that makes the 20808 a definite carrier box, as opposed to a really big switch applicable to the enterprise. Another is its quality-of-service level, with the ability to sort traffic into 250,000 queues, plus the ability to support 100,000 multicast streams.

The multicast density is useful not just for video broadcasts, but for the information that financial institutions (those actually still in business, anyway) disseminate on their networks. "Those can easily run into the tens of thousands of multicast streams," Lunk says.

With the BlackDiamond 20808, Extreme is bidding to raise its carrier Ethernet standing above the crowd. Cisco dominates that market, with Alcatel-Lucent a clear second and Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY) -- soon to be acquired by Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) -- a surprise third. (See Cisco Gets a CESR Wakeup Call and Brocade/Foundry Readies Ethernet Invasion.)

Foundry's market share stood at 5.4 percent in the first quarter of 2008, according to the Heavy Reading "Carrier Ethernet Switch/Router Quarterly Market Tracker." Extreme had a 4.2 percent share, ranking behind Hitachi Cable Ltd. (4.6 percent) and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. (4.4 percent).

The last major upgrade to BlackDiamond came with the 12K family launched in 2006, another purpose-built line that was well regarded enough to garner a Leading Lights nomination. (See LR Names Leading Lights Finalists.)

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

Interested in learning more on this topic? Then come to Ethernet Expo 2008, a conference and exposition examining the latest trends in the carrier Ethernet market. To be staged in New York, October 20-22, the conference will also host Light Reading's third annual Ethernet Service Provider of the Year Awards for North America. Admission is free for attendees meeting our prequalification criteria. For more information, or to register, click here.

Iipoed 12/5/2012 | 3:31:33 PM
re: Extreme Goes for Ethernet Glory Unfortunately will do not do much for EXTR's bottom line. They need to get acquired to have any real impact. their backplane issues are notorious for excessive overheating problems. I can just imagine what this big puppy puts out. Hope they have some serious redundancy so at least the half the box will keep working. At least they are staying afloat as a lot of good people are working there and the last thing the industry needs is more pink slips.
Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:31:33 PM
re: Extreme Goes for Ethernet Glory So ... how long before Cisco comes up with something this size/scope? The need for the 7600's successor gets more pressing.

I find the per-slot capacity particularly intriguing. Extreme now has to root for 100GE to take off as fast as possible -- which they were probably doing already.
Silence Dogood 12/5/2012 | 3:31:32 PM
re: Extreme Goes for Ethernet Glory Extreme has no credibility in the carrier/SP market. Never had it, never will. There's more to building reliable carrier class products than building big backplanes.

I'd say sell the company but nobody wants to buy them or take them private. Extreme lives in the land of the living dead.
materialgirl 12/5/2012 | 3:31:29 PM
re: Extreme Goes for Ethernet Glory Maybe they can merge with the NT carrier division that is on the block, with private money.

What is going on here, anyway, you can't give away technology yet we don't get broadband to our homes.

Finally, since this is LIGHT reading, at what point do these L0-L2 optical switches CIEN and SCMR talk about replace these boxes with more efficient optics in lieu of copper?
Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:31:28 PM
re: Extreme Goes for Ethernet Glory >>>>Finally, since this is LIGHT reading, at what point do these L0-L2 optical switches CIEN and SCMR talk about replace these boxes with more efficient optics in lieu of copper?<<<

Are you talking about optical backplanes and optical packet switching? It's tempting to say "when optical gets cheaper," but I think the real answer is more along the lines of: "When we get *beyond* the point where copper is too painful or too expensive to bear."
materialgirl 12/5/2012 | 3:31:22 PM
re: Extreme Goes for Ethernet Glory Dear Craig:
I THINK I am talking about optical packet switching, certainly not just about optical backplanes. What is the relative port cost for 10G between one of these beasts and the Extreme 20808? What is the total cost of ownership over time?

If these optical L0-L2 boxes do L2 links, what do conventional switches do that they cannot? If their functions are similar, then why stick with copper? If video is growing at anything like people say, copper is not long for this world. It seems to me at some time we reach a tipping point, where scale economics (or lousy vendor financials) deliver optical components that are cheap enough, then watch for a big adoption cycle of optical.
Hanover_Fist 12/5/2012 | 3:31:18 PM
re: Extreme Goes for Ethernet Glory It's not the size of the system, it's the magic inside it.

None of the players aside from Cisco or Juniper have any market share of the delivery/transport for Tier 1 players - if they did, they'd be jointly co-marketing and press-releasing their latest and greatest solutions associated to a well recognized, household CARRIER NAME.

Did we miss any of those household names in the flurry of press releases spewing forth from InterOp NY? Nope - cuz they weren't mentioned at all.

Craig, please go back and push all those recent "big box" announcing vendors to release names of the players who they supposedly designed their latest gear for.
gbmorrison 12/5/2012 | 3:30:53 PM
re: Extreme Goes for Ethernet Glory The carriers won't even talk to the equipment vendors about using their names in the equipment makers' announcements. Not that the equipment guys don't try...it's just across the board policy. The carrier PR people love it they don't have to even spend a second thinking about the request, it's an automatic 'no'. That's even more true for the component guys wanting to get a Tier 1 equipment maker to be in their press and marketing.
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