Leading the pack

Foundry Networks and Extreme Networks are looking to leapfrog rivals with the development of new ASICs and products, which will facilitate Ethernet’s move towards 40 Gigabit.

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By  Zoe Moleshead Published  September 29, 2003

Driving factors|~||~||~|There is no denying the wide scale acceptance that Ethernet has attained since its inception 30 years ago. In parallel to the growth of Ethernet has been the increasing amount of traffic run over the network, which has led Ethernet standards to jump from 3 Mbits/s to 10 Mbits/s, 100 Mbits/s and 1 Gig/s. And only last year the 10 Gigabit Ethernet standard was ratified.

“The role of Ethernet as the transport protocol for enterprise networks, and increasingly for service provider networks, has been cemented,” says Chris Kozup, senior research analyst, global networking strategies, Meta Group.

However, vendors are already putting in place products and roadmaps that will take Ethernet to the next level — 40 Gigabit. Although the standards process for 40 Gig has not yet begun, vendors such as Juniper Networks, Cisco Systems, Foundry Networks and Extreme Networks are already starting to deliver 40 Gig capable architectures or products.

Some parties, however, remain sceptical about the current need or demand for 40 Gig products, citing the relative immaturity of 10 Gig, which has yet to reach groundswell in terms of deployments.

“We continue to track customer demand and at the moment we see no demand for anything beyond 10 Gig Ethernet. Should a need for faster wire speeds arise, you can be sure that 3Com will be at the forefront of industry innovation,” says Wael Fakharany, regional manager, 3Com Middle East.

However, other vendors argue that the innovation is already happening and that the development of 40 Gigabit Ethernet is not about what companies currently require, but what they require in a year or two. “The market for 10 Gigabit Ethernet switching is still a limited market, but there is a growing interest in these technologies… Customers will select a vendor not on what they can do for them today or tomorrow, but what they can do for them in the future,” says Rob Pronk, director of sales, EMEA, Extreme Networks.

“We’re optimising for what the future growth is going to be in our customer base. 40 Gig is something that they [customers] will want in the future and we don’t want to make any compromises on our products,” adds Adam Stein, director, corporate marketing, Foundry Networks.

According to these vendors, there is a combination of factors coming together to test networks’ capacities and resiliency to efficiently and effectively deliver traffic and maintain performance and quality of service (QoS). The increasing uptake of storage and wireless networks will play a part, as will the diverse and expanding array of devices that individuals will use to connect with the network. Finally, the falling costs of 10 Gig ports will encourage their use in both the local area network (LAN) and the metropolitan area network (MAN), which in turn will spur demand for technologies beyond them.

“Networks today have to really accommodate different functions and allow connectivity of devices that goes beyond regular PC connectivity,” says Pronk.

“There will be a massive explosion in the number of connected devices over the same network and for that we need to dimension the networks to be able to cope with both the traffic and the sheer number of devices,” he continues.

To meet this demand both Foundry and Extreme have developed new ASICs —Terathon and Fourth Generation Networking Silicon System (4GNSS) respectively. These chipsets will form the foundation of each vendors’ roadmap towards 40 Gig, as well as providing the basis for many existing and upcoming product rollouts.
Foundry announced in May its BigIron MG8 backbone switch and NetIron 40G metro router, which although classed as 10 Gig products, feature 40 Gig capacity slots.

“These systems support a non-blocking switch design in which each interface slot supports a 40 Gbits/s capacity connection to the backplane,” explains Farook Majeed, regional director, Foundry Networks Middle East.

Extreme has adopted a similar approach with its Mariner switch, which incorporates 4GNSS. Again touted as a leading edge 10 Gigabit Ethernet product, it offers 40 Gig capabilities. “4GNSS really stands for a very impressive development on the ASIC’s side and that eventually leads to new products for our existing switching platforms as well as a number of new switching platforms, such as Mariner,” says Pronk.

||**||Regional demand|~||~||~|While formulating a product set and roadmap is one factor for 40 Gig development, uptake is, of course, the other crucial factor. Both Foundry and Extreme, however, are confident that there are a number of both global and regional users that will invest in their products.

Majeed cites research labs, cluster and grid computing environments and internet exchange providers as a few of the organisations that will be prime candidates for such technology. Extreme, however, points to the increasing number of both residential and business hubs in the region that will require MANs.

“We are going to see metro networks deployed in places like the four ports, the finance and healthcare cities and pretty much any Emaar development... From a networking point of view they are going to be high quality, high volume metro networks, so this will be a big point of interest,” explains Chris Moore, regional manager, Extreme Networks, Middle East & North Africa.

Although both Foundry and Extreme are aware that while they may have taken the initiative in the 40 Gig space, other vendors will soon follow. Pronk, however, suggests that the very fact that Extreme has a roadmap and actual products shipping will help secure customers.

“It is going to be a key advantage for Extreme to be able to say we don’t just have an opinion, but we are actually developing and very influential within the industry discussion about standardising [40 Gig],” he says.

Although it remains key for any vendor to try to stay ahead of the curve and develop products that meet future customer requirements, the standards process doesn’t always move at the same pace. More importantly, some enterprises may delay their investment in products until standards are ratified and for 40 Gig this could still be someway in the future.

“We estimate that a ‘next generation’ Ethernet standard could be in place by summer 2007. Given this timeline, pre-standard implementations could be available in late 2006 to early 2007,” says Majeed.||**||

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