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Faster Ethernet for the masses

Equipment makers introduce their highest-capacity 10-gigabit switches on lower-cost gear.

Networking gear makers are bringing support for their highest-capacity switches to a variety of lower-end devices, aiming to woo smaller corporate customers to technology that's becoming cheaper by the day.

On Monday, Foundry Networks, a leader in the 10-gigabit per second Ethernet market, rounded out its portfolio with 10-gigabit Ethernet interfaces on a new load-balancing switch. Hewlett-Packard's ProCurve Networking division plans to build a low-cost 10-gigabit Ethernet core switch using technology it bought from Riverstone Networks. And earlier this month, 3Com announced a new stackable switch that has a 10-gigabit Ethernet uplink.

Putting this technology on less-expensive equipment will help push it further into the mainstream corporate market or even the small and medium-size business market, said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with The Yankee Group.

"If you're going to put gigabit Ethernet to the desktop, then you need to offer affordable 10-gigE (10-gigabit Ethernet) uplinks on lower-end products," he said.

The 10-gigabit Ethernet provides 10 times more capacity than regular gigabit Ethernet. Up to now, the technology has been used by researchers and large corporations to help build supercomputers and high-end data centers and storage area networks. The technology has emerged as an alternative to InfiniBand in the data center where it's used for clustering groups of servers together. It's also making headway in storage systems, where it's a potential replacement for Fibre Channel switches.

Prices on 10-gigabit Ethernet have over the past year. At the end of 2003, the average price for such an interface was around $11,000 per port, according to The Yankee Group. That price has now fallen below $5,000. And Kerravala said he would be surprised if the average port price on a 10-gigabit Ethernet interface wasn't $2,000 by the end of the year.

As prices fall, equipment companies have seen an opportunity to extend the technology to lower-cost products. This trend should help push corporate users and small and midsize businesses into the 10-gigabit Ethernet fray as well, Kerravala said.

Foundry has incorporated 10-gigabit Ethernet in its new midrange load-balancing switches. The company introduced the E-series, a set of three modular switches that fill the gap between Foundry's entry-level GT devices and the higher-end ServerIron 400 and 800 series switches. The new ServerIronGT E10Gx2 switch has two 10-gigabit Ethernet ports and is designed for balancing traffic between application servers in a midsize data center. The company currently offers 10-gigabit Ethernet only on its more expensive high-end products.

HP ProCurve is also entering the 10-gigabit Ethernet market with a product that should push more companies to use 1gbps Ethernet on the desktop. Earlier this month, the company announced that it had bought 10-gigabit Ethernet switching assets from Riverstone Networks. The company said that it plans to use this technology to build a stripped-down version of such a switch that it says will be much less expensive than Cisco Systems' 10-gigabit Ethernet product. Currently, Cisco offers 10-gigabit Ethernet interfaces only on its high-end Catalyst 6500 switch. The Cisco product also requires users to buy the Supervisor 720 module for full performance.

"We will be coming out with a switch that will provide a whole new category of product for the enterprise," said Brice Clark, worldwide director of strategic planning for HP's ProCurve division. "Our strategy is to put intelligence in switches at the edge of the network. What's needed in the core is something to interconnect the raw bandwidth."

Earlier this month, 3Com also introduced a new stackable switch that has a 10-gigabit Ethernet expansion slot. The SuperStack 3 Switch 3870 can be used to aggregate 1gbps Ethernet traffic. The company said it's offering this switch at an aggressive price to help drive more adoption of gigabit at the edge.