Extreme Goes for Ethernet Glory

Major league bigness is a big part of Extreme's big new carrier Ethernet switch, which is big, real big

Craig Matsumoto, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

September 22, 2008

4 Min Read
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.

About the Author(s)

Craig Matsumoto

Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

Yes, THAT Craig Matsumoto – who used to be at Light Reading from 2002 until 2013 and then went away and did other stuff and now HE'S BACK! As Editor-in-Chief. Go Craig!!

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