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Voltaire punts monster 10 GE switch

Weighing in at 15U with 288 ports

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In early May, InfiniBand switch maker Voltaire said it would start two-timing with a line of 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches, and the company has not taken long to kick out its first product.

Well, the spec sheets for it, anyway.

This week, Voltaire launched the Vantage 8500 Ethernet switch, which it's pitching as a data center-class product aimed at cloud computing and other high performance computing workloads and which it also claims is the largest non-blocking, layer 2 Ethernet switch. The unit comes in a 15U chassis and has 288 wire-speed 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports and has microcode that allows it to support the evolving and soon-to-be-standardized Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE) spec espoused by various switch makers.

CEE takes much of the functionality from InfiniBand - such as multilane priority scheduling, I/O virtualization, lossless data transfer, low latency links, layer 2 network multipathing, RDMA protocols, and hardware congestion management - and ports the lot over to Ethernet.

The CEE add-ons to Ethernet do not presuppose Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), but they certainly help to enable that functionality and the convergence of networks and storage into a single switching fabric. That was the dream that was InfiniBand a decade ago, when the Future I/O server and storage fabric put forth by Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM was merged into the Next Generation I/O spec being developed at the time by Sun Microsystems, Intel, and Microsoft.

Voltaire has not forgotten the promise of a single switch fabric for servers and storage that was the basis of the InfiniBand effort, and it has said it plans to do 10 Gigabit Ethernet in a flatter and wider way than industry juggernaut Cisco Systems. Even if you use Cisco's Unified Fabric approach, converging server and storage switching in racks, Cisco is still making customers buy big and expensive upstream switches.

Anyway, the Vantage 8500 is being pitched as FCoE-ready, which is about all that any other switch maker can say at this point because this technology is new to the market and the FCoE standard is still being hammered out. (It's getting close, though, with the T11 standards group meeting last week to hammer out some issues with the FCoE spec, which is known as FC-BB5. Now all that needs to happen is for ANSI to accept it as a standard).

With the Vantage 8500, the machine is able to stack up a dozen of these boxes and daisy chain them together to put 3,456 ports, all running at 10 Gigabit speeds, into a single switching fabric. Voltaire is also saying that with a latency of under 1 microsecond, under 10 watts of power consumption per 10GE port, and integrated support for quality of service and isolation of virtual machines running on virtualized servers, it can take a run at Cisco and its "California" Unified Computing System in conjunction with its server partners.

The Vantage 8500 switch is slated for deliveries in the second half of 2009 through Voltaire's OEM and channel partners. Sources at the company say that the Vantage 8500 will cost around $1,200 per port at list price. ®

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