Nortel Networks is defending a plan that requires users to undergo a significant hardware upgrade to gain Layer 3 capabilities on its new LAN switch.
Nortel's recently announced Accelar 8000 is a six- and 10-slot modular 10/100 and Gigabit Ethernet switch for enterprise wiring closets and core backbones. It will ship in April with Layer 2 switching modules.
Layer 3 modules will ship in October and will require users to replace the Layer 2 modules if they want what Nortel refers to as a "full-featured" routing switch, says Basil Alwan, vice president and general manager of Nortel's enterprise products division. The Accelar 8000 chassis and backplane, meanwhile, can be spared.
But Alwan says users are not likely to swap all Layer 2 modules for Layer 3. The Layer 2 Accelar 8000 will function as a chassis-based wiring closet switch at the network edge, linking workgroups to a Layer 3 Accelar 8000 or Accelar 1200 - Nortel's first-generation routing switch - in the network core.
Still, the prospect of having to forklift modules out of the Accelar 8000 chassis if they want Layer 3, whether it be at the edge or core of their networks, is not an appealing one.
Nortel is not alone in requiring users to undergo a substantial hardware upgrade for a full routing switch. Users of 3Com's CoreBuilder 9000 will face the same line card swap-out situation when 3Com ships Layer 3 modules for that switch later this year.
Users of Cisco's Catalyst 5500, meanwhile, will have to upgrade to a whole new switch chassis - the Catalyst 8500 - if they want full-featured routing at the line card level in the network core.
The alternative to a hardware upgrade is a software upgrade. Extreme Networks, for example, offers a software "key" on its Summit switches that lets users turn on Layer 3 features when they need them, says George Prodan, vice president of marketing at Extreme.