Lippis Report 149: High End 10GbE Data Center Switches Reviewed

In Lippis Report 148 we reviewed the major drivers and trends that are propelling the high-end data center Ethernet switch market to well over a $1B annual run rate. In this Lippis Report Research Note, we review the major suppliers of these switches. We review Cisco, Arista Networks Force10 Networks, BLADE Network Technologies, HP/3Com/H3C, Voltaire, Avaya, Brocade, and Juniper and identify their unique positions and offerings to participants in the burgeoning market. Our focus is the high-end, high density 10GbE switches that are enabling virtualized cloud computing data centers thanks to Terabits per second of back plane switching capacity, billions of packets per second of layer 2/3 forwarding, hundreds of 10GbE port connectivity per chassis, a new two-tier architecture, microsecond level latency, low power consumption, non-stop operation and software hooks that eliminate network barriers to large scale server virtualization. The engineering in these switches should be celebrated, as they represent the state-of-the-art in computer and network design. In short, they represent the fundamental building block of a new generation of IT delivery based upon cloud computing and virtualization. This Research Note is a must read for any IT executive designing a data center.

After finishing this Research Note, it became evident that this market needs a set of industry neural 10GbE switch test to independently verify vendor claims. We hope to make such a contribution this Fall.


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Cisco Systems Nexus Family of Switches

Cisco’s approach to data center Ethernet switching is rooted in its Data Center 3.0 strategy which seeks to scale server virtualization while introducing a platform to enable a unified fabric or converged network and storage running on one physical Ethernet network. Cisco’s data center Ethernet switch portfolio is primarily the Nexus family of switches including the 7000, 5000, 2000 and 1000v. NX-OS is a purpose built data center operating system that runs across the entire Nexus family. NX-OS integrates a number of higher system availability functionalities such as virtual port- channel (vPC), and the capability to upgrade software without disrupting traffic. The Nexus 1000v is a softswitch that resides in a VM hypervisor. The Nexus 1000v’s main job is to eliminate network configuration barriers that exist when moving a VM from one physical machine to another. To accomplish this, the 1000v creates a port profile including VLAN, ACL, policy, security, etc. with persistence, which moves with a VM as a virtualization administer moves a VM from one physical machine to another.

The Nexus 2000 family of Fabric Extenders (FEX) introduces the concept of a remote line card of the parent Nexus 5000 switches and sits on the top-of-rack connecting servers to the switch fabric. The extender concept allows the 2000 and 5000 to be managed as one switch. This configuration reduces cabling requirements and offers an economical approach to server connection, thus providing the benefits of both end-of-row and top-of-rack deployments. The Nexus 5000 Series is 10 Gb Ethernet and Unified Fabric capable switches, connecting Nexus 2000s and servers directly at 100/1/10GbE/FCoE, while providing layer 2 forwarding. Providing layer 3 forwarding, dense 1/10GbE connectivity is the Nexus 7000 Series. The Nexus 7000 Series is available in a 10 and 18 slot chassis and is Cisco’s flagship data center Ethernet switch series. As a point of reference, the Nexus 7000 is now on an annualized run rate of $1B for Cisco, which is more than 10 times greater than any other switch supplier in the data center switch market. The high end 7000 connects 512 10GbE ports with 128 line-rate 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports. The Nexus 7000 Series switches can be segmented into virtual devices, delivering true segmentation of network traffic, context-level fault isolation, and management through the creation of independent hardware and software partitions. Overlay Virtualization Transport (OTV) provides customers a simplified DCI solution by extending layer 2 VLANs over existing IP networks. We have profiled the Nexus 7000 when first released and is available here. The Nexus switches can create a two-tier architecture with the 2000/5000, providing server connectivity and layer 2 forwarding between servers. The Nexus 7000 connects the 2000/5000 to each other and the internet/intranet with high density, high reliability layer 2/3 forwarding.

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Arista Networks 7500 Family of Modular Switches

Arista Networks is a new comer to the data center Ethernet market, but its management team is seasoned and customer base growing. It provides six fixed 10GbE switches; five 1/10GbE 7100 and the 1GbE 7048 along with the new Best of Interop awarding winning 7500 modular switch. The 7100/7048 switches connect servers in a Top-of-Rack configuration while the 7500 aggregates these switches and connects them to the internet and intranet. This is a two-tier, “leaf-spine” architecture. The 7500 boasts ultra high performance layer 2/3 1/10 Gb Ethernet switching for high performance computing and cloud computing data centers. The 7500 supports 384 10GbE ports, 5.7Bpps at layer 2 or 3, high packet buffers 18GB deep, ultra low port-port latency of 4.5 microseconds and 10Terabit loss less switch fabric connecting modules.

The 7500 is 10GbE port dense, compact, cloud spec fast, green and prepared for 40 and 100GbE, with a price tag 50% below competitive offerings, according to Arista. While the 7500’s hardware architecture is impressive, its operating system EOS, Extensible Operating System, offers another set of uniqueness. For example, all Arista switches run the same binary image of EOS, easing administration while hastening switch feature upgrades. EOS is a modular OS that allows partners to run their software in the Arista switch, consolidating the number of management and network appliances required, thus increasing performance while reducing energy consumption and physical space. Arista’s EOS modularity was designed as a unique state sharing architecture that separates switch state from protocol processing and application logic. EOS is built on top of a standard Linux kernel. All EOS processes run in their own protected memory space and exchange state through an in-memory database. This multi-process state sharing architecture provides the foundation for in-service-software updates and self-healing resiliency. You can listen to a podcast interview with Douglas Gourlay, VP Marketing and Anshul Sadana, VP Customer & Systems Engineering from Arista on the introduction of the 7500 Series of Ethernet switches here

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HP/3Com/H3C’s A12500 Core Data Center Switches

HP has spent 25 years building and selling networking products to its worldwide client base and is currently #2 in the market, with a 21% port count share and the fastest growing networking company in the industry. The combined HP/3COM acquisition brings core switching products, the #1 market share position in China, TippingPoint Intrusion Prevention System and ProCurve edge switches, representing a new choice for clients who are frustrated by today’s current offerings. HP will combine these two entities and operate under the banner of “HP Networking.”

The HP Converged Infrastructure Architecture and FlexFabric blueprint approach the modern data center with a vision that places networking at the center of an integrated data center solution and accelerates deployment of enterprise services and applications. It is designed to drive simplicity through streamlined network designs and centralized management, enhance agility with high performance security, and accelerated provisioning, and reduce cost with energy efficiency and low total cost of ownership. Central to HP FlexFabric is policy-driven network provisioning tightly integrated with server and storage management in an end-to-end data center converged infrastructure.

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HP data center solutions are purpose built, using the latest advanced systems and ASIC technologies. “A” family data center networking platforms leverage a common operating system, Comware™ and are managed with a single-pane manager, Intelligent Management Center (IMC). HP switches make use of an HP-developed technology – Intelligent Resilient Framework (IRF) – to create a resilient virtual switching fabric. IRF delivers geographic independence, distributed high-availability, resiliency and millisecond re-convergence across layer 2 and layer 3 protocols. These innovations allow customers to build a simplified, high performing, highly resilient and flat (two-tier) data center network design. They overcome the limitations of low performance/scale, high cost/latency inherent in legacy solutions, which rely on multi-tier network designs, disjointed platform operating systems and complex resiliency protocols.

A key enabler of this transformational design flexibly is the HP next-generation data center switching architecture. This starts with the flagship HP A12500 core data center switch – which is based on a 100G design that uses a multi-level, multi-plane, non-blocking switching architecture to provide high performance and scalability. The A12500 supports 6.66 Tbps of high-performance switching capacity (future support for 13.32 Tbps) and scales to 2.2 billion packets per second of forwarding performance. The A12518 supports 512 10 Gigabit Ethernet or 864 Gigabit Ethernet ports in a single chassis. Its future-proof design accommodates 40/100 Gigabit Ethernet and emerging unified network requirements such as end-to-end FCoE/Data Center Ethernet.

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Force10 Networks ExaScale E Series

Force10 Networks was one, if not the first company to offer 1 and 10Gb switching solutions for high-performance computing and data center markets in Fortune 100 companies, Internet portals, global carriers, leading research laboratories and government organizations. It offers a wide range of Ethernet switching and routing products that deliver high port density and resiliency to help customers deploy a high-availability, agile and standards-based GbE and 10 GbE network fabric, while reducing power and cooling costs. Its Ethernet switching products are designed to leverage virtualized data center environments and automate Ethernet networking. For example, its VirtualScale enables management of virtual chassis. Its VirtualControl enables virtualizing logical switching and routing boundaries. For automation, Force10 has developed an architecture, which automates network resource allocation as applications and services spin up and down. This architecture is built upon its HyperLink and SwitchLink technology, two new software features implemented within its Force10 Operating System (FTOS). HyperLink provides real-time communication between Force10 switches and hypervisors or virtual switches to enable automatic provisioning of one or many virtual LANs (VLANs) across multiple switches simultaneously. The SwitchLink feature provides real-time communication with middleware orchestration tools to enable automatic provisioning and management of virtual devices anywhere in the network.

Force10’s modular Ethernet switch data center product portfolio includes the ExaScale E-Series, optimized for core deployments in large-scale, high-performance 10GbE data centers, and the C-Series, optimized for mid-range data centers. Both the E-Series and C-Series come in multiple form factors, run FTOS and are dense high performance switching platforms equipped with redundancy, availability, fault-tolerant operations and many line card options. In addition, Force10 offers the fixed configuration S-Series product line for GbE and 10 GbE ToR configurations. Force10 promotes a vision of simplified data center topologies, using integrated switching and routing in the core, using chassis based E-Series or C-Series products, and fixed configuration ToR access products allowing both 1 tier and 2 tier designs. One tier can be achieved with high density E-Series platform for server aggregation, switching at the server edge, and routing off the same platform to the Internet / WAN. The two-tier architecture can be achieved leveraging ToR switching for server aggregation along with Force10’s chassis based systems in the core. In addition to a large direct sales force, IBM OEM’s Force10’s ExaScale platform as part of IBM’s iDataPlex clustering solution. You can listen to a podcast interview with Steve Garrison, VP Marketing of Force10 on their 40 GbE offering here.

Multi-Chassis Link Aggregation

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BLADE Network Technologies RackSwitch Family of Ethernet Switches

BLADE Network Technologies (BNT) has been working in the data center switch market since 2006 with much success providing 1/10Gb Ethernet switches for blade servers and top-of-rack configurations. BLADE was launched from Nortel and made up of the successful Alteon Networks group. Their success stems from their ability to identify the top-of-rack and blade switch market in ’06, along with an OEM go to market strategy that included all of the top tier blade server providers such as HP, IBM and NEC. The result is that BLADE has shipped over 8m ports, achieved 25% growth from 2008 to 2009 (in a down economy), owns 50+ % of the blade switch market, is number 3 in the Fixed 10GbE market according to Dell’Oro Group, and has demonstrated scale with at least one customer installing over 16,000 of its switches.

BLADE offers the RackSwitch family of Ethernet switches, which are ToR, 1U high switches. They include the 24-port 360ns latency RackSwitch G8100 10GbE, 48-port RackSwitch G8000 1/10 GbE aggregation and the 24-port 700ns latency RackSwitch G8124 10GbE. Over a year ago, BLADE released its virtualization software called VMready that automates network settings for VM movement ensuring that network settings migrate when a VM is moved from one physical server to another. VMready scales to a 1000 virtual port switch, is based on standards and works with most popular hypervisors.

In addition to VMready, RackSwitch’s unique attributes are found in the fact that they were designed for the data center versus being a wiring closet switch re-formatted for the data center. For example, the RackSwitch BLADEOS supports CEE for unified fabrics, uplink failure detection, virtualization, dual homing for servers, low (80-170Watts) power consumption, back-to-front or front-to-back airflow and very low latency in the 700-360 nanosecond range.

Voltaire’s Vantage 8500

Voltaire has a long history in high performance computing and data center networking as it is one of the key leaders in the InfiniBand market. Voltaire enjoys distribution relationships with HP and IBM, as well as Bull, Fujitsu, NEC, SGI and Oracle. The result is a 100% + year over year revenue growth for Q1 as reported on May 5th. Last October, Voltaire entered the 10 GbE market with the introduction of its Vantage 8500 Ethernet layer 2-core switch. The Vantage 8500 boasts less than 1 microsecond of latency, a low 10 watts per port power consumption and 288 wire speed 10GbE ports in a 15U high chassis. The Vantage 8500’s unique industry contribution is that it’s based on converged enhanced Ethernet (CEE) technology providing InfiniBand-like capabilities to the Ethernet data center. In fact, Voltaire has ported many of InfiniBand’s key characteristics to the Vantage 8500 such as a lossless switching fabric, multi-pathing, virtualization, fabric-wide congestion management and QoS.

From a network design point of view, Voltaire supports a two tier network architecture that enables a simplified, ‘flat’ data center network and puts an end to the era of the over-provisioned network. Voltaire’s design centered on the Vantage 8500 is to support a two-tier data center network that scales from hundreds to a few thousand core ports, which requires high capacity, non-blocking 10 Gigabit Ethernet core switches. By clustering up to twelve Vantage 8500 switches together, IT business leaders can expand their data center to many thousands of servers while preserving the efficiency and price-per-port, without degrading performance or latency which occurs in traditional hierarchical network designs. To support ToR implementations, Voltaire and BLADE Network Technologies announced recently a partnership where BLADE ToR RackSwitches are aggregated by Voltaire’s Vantage 8500, rounding out the two-tier data center Ethernet network architecture.

The Vantage 8500 also features software-based capabilities to address virtualized and converged data center environments. Voltaire’s Unified Fabric Manager™ (UFM) software, application acceleration software and management OS (VT-OS) provide management and performance enhancement tools. These tools were developed and optimized in InfiniBand environments and are now available for Ethernet-based data centers. Voltaire’s recently introduced Unified Fabric Manager™ (UFM™) 3.0 software orchestrates physical and virtual switches delivering guaranteed levels of service per application. It’s the first and only Ethernet fabric management software that dynamically orchestrates end-to-end virtual machine connectivity for multi-vendor, scale-out data center networks.

Avaya’s VSP 9000

During the April 2009 Las Vegas Interop trade show, Nortel committed to the data center Ethernet market with the announcement of its Virtual Services Platform or VSP 9000 switch, which supports up to 27 Terabits per second (Tbps) of backplane switching and 240 10GbE ports per chassis at first release. Avaya announced their commitment to the VSP 9000 and said that it will be generally available in the second half of 2010 while already in controlled availability. The VSP 9000 is built upon the Ethernet Routing Switch 8600/8800 software providing a proven software foundation, mid-plane architecture, a fully programmable network processor unit for flexible data forwarding and carrier-grade Linux.

The VSP 9000 is designed to deliver high-density 10GbE, 40GbE and 100GbE. Its design center is rooted in highly dense connectivity environments that are all mission critical, by definition. Early testing validation of the VSP 9000 promises to provide ultra-high reliability and availability delivering below 50ms failover support, which is critical to eliminate application disruption thanks to its patented hardware failure detection differentiation. The VSP 9000 switch fabrics are lossless Ethernet capable and therefore well positioned to support the next generation Data Center requirements for convergence of storage onto the Ethernet infrastructure.

The VSP 9000’s unique network architecture is found in its ability to cluster four switches together, in that the total architecture exceeds 100 Tbs, with the number of 10GbE ports per rack being up to 720. Avaya continues to invest in Switch Clustering technology (Active/Active resiliency model) such as SMLT (split multi-link trunking) and RSMLT (routed-SMLT), which provides link, switch and router redundancy mechanisms. Three modules are being introduced in the first VSP 9000 release, a 24 port SFP+ for 1 GbE and 10 GbE connectivity, a 48-port of SFP module in addition to a 48-port 10/100/1000 TX module. Future plans include 40GbE and 100GbE interfaces, and even higher-capacity Switch Fabric modules.

Juniper Networks’s EX8200 & EX4500

In January of 2008, Juniper Networks launched its much-anticipated entry into the enterprise Ethernet switch market. Juniper’s focus is on the enterprise data center, campus and branch, as well as the service provider market. Juniper provides a suite of Ethernet switch products, including the EX4200 with Virtual Chassis technology for GbE Top-of-Rack (ToR) and End-of-Row (EoR) data center access, the EX2500 24-port and new EX4500 48-port 10GbE ToR switches, and the EX8200 high-density, high-performance line of modular Ethernet switches.

According to Juniper, it simplifies customer enterprise LAN architectures and advances the economics of networking via its most recently launched initiative called the “new network” for data centers. Juniper’s “new network” promises critical innovations in automation, virtualization and fabric technologies. These innovations are to reduce time to operation by up to 50 percent and eliminate up to 35 percent of data center networking capital expenditures. One aspect of the “new network” is a simplified two-tier network architecture, which may be reduced to one when “Project Stratus” is completed with IBM. The reduction of a three-tier architecture to two is accomplished by utilizing Juniper’s Virtual Chassis fabric technology in the access layer, in conjunction with its high-density, high-performance platforms such as EX8200 and EX4500 in the LAN core, thus eliminating the aggregation or distribution layer. According to Juniper, collapsing the distribution layer reduces complexity in the data center as well as campus networks by reducing the number of managed devices by up to 89%, providing up to 39% savings in space, 44% savings in power and reducing the number of switch interactions by up to 99% compared to three-layer networks. According to Juniper, this approach improves application performance by also reducing latency up to 77% compared to three-layer networks. Note that these claims and numbers are Juniper’s and not mine.

At the core of Juniper’s data center Ethernet product family is the EX8200 line of modular switches. The EX8208 and EX8216 are eight and sixteen-slot modular switches. The EX8216 sports a maximum of 640 10GbE ports and 1.92Bpps and 6.2Tbps backplane speed. The EX8200 is said to support 40GbE and 100GbE interfaces in the future. The EX8200s connect either EX4200 GbE or EX2500 and EX4500 10GbE ToR switches together while providing access to internet/intranet. All Juniper switches run Junos, the network operating system that provides reliability and availability features, developed for the high-performance enterprise and service provider market.

Brocade’s NetIron MLX Series of Switches

In July of 2008, Brocade had purchased Foundry Networks, catapulting them into the Ethernet switch market as one of the top five Ethernet switch/router vendors by revenue. Brocade, with its long history of data center storage, saw that converged I/O was going to happen and prepared the company to participate in this market. At the high end of Brocade’s data center Ethernet switch products is the NetIron MLX-4, MLX-8, MLX-16 and MLX-32 routers, which support 4, 8, 16 and 32 I/O module slots, respectively. We’ll focus on the high end NetIron MLX-32 here, which has been in production since August 2006.

The NetIron MLX-32 boasts a total of fully redundant non-blocking 7.68 Tbps switch fabric capacity. Brocade says that the MLX-32 can forward some 2.284 Bpps of Layer 2/3 packets and support 1,536 and 256 non-blocking 1 GbE and 10 GbE ports, respectively. Note that the new high density 10 GbE was announced the same day as this Research Note was made public. All four NetIron MLX systems are designed for non-stop operation, supporting 1:1 management module redundancy, N+1 switch module redundancy, M+N power module redundancy and N+1 fan redundancy. The NetIron MLX architecture is an adaptive self-routing Clos switch fabric with a virtual output queue (VOQ) design. This non-blocking architecture is optimized for maximum throughput and low latency for all packet sizes.

3 Debates over Lippis Report 149: High End 10GbE Data Center Switches Reviewed

  1. Nick Lippis said:

    In Lippis Report 149: High End 10GbE Data Center Switches Reviewed, love 2 hear ur thoughts

  2. Nick Lippis said:

    In Lippis Report 149: High End 10GbE Data Center Switches Reviewed, love 2 hear ur thoughts

  3. EMW said:

    RT @Nicklippis: In Lippis Report 149: High End 10GbE Data Center Switches Reviewed, love 2 hear ur thoughts