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Force 10 Aims for the Data Center

Force10 Networks Inc. today unveiled the S-50, its first fixed-configuration data center switch, as it attempts to up the ante in its battle with Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ).

Until now, Force10’s main product offering was the E-Series of chassis-based switches. The S-50 represents a move into a new part of the market: the server edge of the data center. The 1-rack-unit box comes with 48 ports of Gigabit Ethernet (also capable of 10- and 100-Mbit/s operation) and two 10-Gbit/s Ethernet ports.

The Milpitas, Calif., company has already got around half a dozen beta customers for the S-50, says Andrew Feldman, vice president of marketing.

This is all about cost. The high price per port of traditional chassis-based switches means users typically connect them to large server clusters. Force10, then, is going after those users that can’t afford to hitch the likes of Web servers and software infrastructure servers to a large chassis-based box. Users can connect the servers to the S-50 and use its 10-Gbit/s uplinks to feed E-Series boxes.

It's a shrewd move, says Steven Schuchart, senior analyst for enterprise infrastructure at Current Analysis. “The S-50 is a response to needs from customers that like their Force10 gear and are saying that they want an aggregation switch," he says. “For Force10, it’s a good evolutionary step. Their smallest switch to date is the E-300, which is too big for a lot of applications."

Indeed, the S-50 could be good news for companies wanting 10-Gbit/s links at less than E-series prices. The 10-Gbit/s Ethernet list price per port on the E-Series is around $12,000, compared to $3,250 on the S-50.

But the S-50 will have to contend with HP’s ProCurve 3400 device, which was launched last year (see HP Launches Gigabit Switch Series). Like the S-50, the ProCurve 3400cl is a 1-rack-unit box that supports up to 48 10/100/1000 ports and two 10-Gbit/s Ethernet ports.

Naturally, Force10 says it has a performance edge over its rival. Feldman told NDCF that the S-50 offers a switching capacity of 192 gigabits per second. Throughput on HP's 3400cl is 136 Gigabits per second.

However, Darla Sommerville, HP's vice president and general manager for the Americas, highlighted the fact that the 3400cl is available in both 24-port and 48-port configurations. This, she says, offers users a great degree of flexibility. "If you are putting out Gigabit to the desktop you may not want to pay for additional ports," she adds.

Force 10’s core technology has already led to some big wins in areas including high-performance computing, where HP is a major player (see Argonne Picks Force10 and Force10 Scores Record Q1 Sales).

HP’s switch technology is seen as a key weapon in its assault on the networking market. The company is using the switches to entice users over to its Adaptive Enterprise strategy (see HP Tightens Up ProCurve Story and HP ProCurve Expands Security).

But as HP adds to its arsenal, so Force10 needs to expand its footprint, according to Schuchart. “Force10 needs to decide on the next market to tackle. If I was to speculate, I would say that they would probably go after the enterprise next," he says. "But if they do that, then they have to broaden the platform.”

This is a distinct possibility. Feldman told NDCF that Force10 is likely to expand its S-Series family at the high end.

— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-Gen Data Center Forum

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chook0 12/5/2012 | 3:20:21 AM
re: Force 10 Aims for the Data Center I forgot one other factor why you might want a faster fabric than the total throughput: You don't want the fabric to be the bottleneck for reasons of QOS.

Take as an example a switch where you have 8 levels of priority on the output queues, but there are only 2 priority levels in the fabric. (Pretty common. Nortel's PP8600 at least in its previous incarnation was like this).

Further assume that input patterns were such that one of the output ports was heavily congested but the input ports were all uncongested. (e.g. 2 input ports trying to send traffic to a single output port. Not hard to do in an aggregation scenario.)

If the fabric is sped up (and presumably the ports on the fabric) then that traffic load is all transferred to the output queues and dropping is performed under an 8-queue regime.

If the fabric is not sped up, then either you have the fabric dropping packets under a 2-priority regime or (more likely) you get backpressure into the input queues which will affect traffic to uncongested ports as well (HOL blocking).

Scrub the previous comment about wanting the vendors to tell us about their fabric speed. I want to know the architecture as well. It matters. I'll forgive them for telling me where they have over-engineered as long as they tell me where they have under-engineered as well.

--Chook


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