Force10 says it has Cisco Catalyst killer

Force10 says it has Cisco Catalyst killer

New C-Series switches pushes high-density gigabit, PoE and 10G to wiring closets

Force10 Networks this week launched a mid-range Ethernet switch chassis aimed at taking on boxes such as the Cisco Catalyst 6500 and Foundry Networks' Super X series at the LAN edge and aggregation layer.

The Force10 C300 switch is an eight-slot chassis designed to connect large groups of users with 10/100/1000Mbps links, as well as Power over Ethernet (PoE). The device also supports high-density 10G Ethernet connections, allowing the box to act as an aggregation layer switch, or for connecting a C300 in wiring closets directly to a 10G LAN core. Force10 says the chassis gives enterprise users a lower-cost option from its high-end E-Series, while surpassing competitive chassis on performance.

The C300 supports as many as 384 10/1000/1000Mbps ports in a chassis. A 6,000 Watt power supply and optional PoE-enabled 48-port line cards also can support in-line power on every port in the switch, Force10 says. Four-port 10G line cards can be used to link to LAN aggregation or core switches, and 32 10G ports are supported in the chassis. The chassis also runs the Force10 Operating System, which allows switches to isolate Layer 2 and 3 forwarding for resiliency, and allows for in-service hot swapping of blades and redundant management modules.

Force10's C300 launch is part of a strategy to branch out from its traditional niche of high-end 10G Ethernet data centers; Google, YouTube, Yahoo, FaceBook and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories are among the users Force10's E-Series 10G switches. The company is doing this with lower-cost triple-speed and 10G Ethernet blades, with some high-end routing and data center switching features taken out -- Border Gateway Protocol and large route tables. This leads to lower cost: a 48-port triple-speed module for the E-Series lists at more than US$30,000; the new C-Series blades start at US$8,000.

One user of Force10 in the core and data center is eHarmony, the online dating Web site. The company uses E-Series switches in its server data centers, and for its WAN edge links. Now the company is pushing the C300 switches into its corporate network to support around 300 employees in its Pasadena headquarters and operations center.

"It gives us a highly-resilient, incredible capacity," says Cyrus Mohit, manager of data center operations for eHarmony. In addition to connecting users, the company is also using C300 chassis as a backup network infrastructure for its main network of E-Series switches.

Force10's marketing says it is targeting the Cisco Catalyst 4500 and other mid-level enterprise wiring closet and aggregation-layer chassis. However, because Force10's E-Series scaled so much higher than core LAN and data center offerings from many competitors, the C-Series is a more comparable switch to such boxes as the Catalyst 6509, Nortel's ERS 8600 and Foundry FastIron Super X series, among other products. (Cisco recently revamped its Catalyst 6500 for wiring closet deployments with advanced features, such as packet inspection and security).

Analysts say switches such as the C300, with lots of bandwidth and features such as PoE, are becoming more popular as enterprises focus more on LAN edge technologies.

"A lot of the changes in the way people work, with Web 2.0 and things like that, create an environment where the value of the network is more important uniformly," says Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with the Yankee Group. "Historically, you had really [high-end switches] with lots of features in the data center, and cheap stuff with no features in the wiring closet. Now content is being crated at the edge, and the value of the network is at the edge, you have to have high-end features throughout."

Still, no Ethernet switch vendor has had much success supplanting Cisco's Catalyst 6509, 4500, or any switch model, in the enterprise LAN edge or distribution layer. Cisco has more than 70 percent of the worldwide enterprise LAN switch market, while Force10 has less than 1 percent.

The C300 chassis costs at US$20,000, with line cards starting at US$8,000.

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