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Dell flashes 40GE blade switch, fabric manager

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The engineers who used to work at the formerly independent Force 10 have forged the first 40 Gigabit Ethernet switch for new owner Dell's PowerEdge M1000e blade server chassis.

If you sell servers, storage, and networking, you are arguably a system maker these days, and that is one of the reasons why Dell bought Force 10 Networks last July for an undisclosed sum. Dell wants to be – and needs to be – a converged systems maker just in case this becomes one of the dominant ways that IT shops start buying gear.

The switch, which is called the Force10 MXL, is not the first 40GE ever created by Force 10. Back in November 2010, way out at the front of the curve, Force 10 launched the S4810, a 1U rack-mounted, top of rack device with 48 10GbE SFP+ ports that can step down to Gigabit Ethernet if your servers need that, plus four QSFP+ ports running at 40GbE speeds, and a line card for its ExaScale core switches that sports six ports, two of which could run at 40GE speeds.

Dell's Force 10 XML 40GE blade switch

Dell's Force 10 XML 40GE blade
switch

Like those two switches above, the MXL switch for the M1000e chassis can swing both ways, 10GE or 40GE; it is designed to play in Layers 2 and 3 in the network. This one is designed with six 40GE QSFP+ ports that can be turned into 24 10GE ports with four-way splitter cables. The idea is that you can buy the 40GE switch today and use it as a 10GE switch now, then change the cables in the future when and if you need 40GE ports.

The MXL switch is also stackable, like top-of-rackers, allowing up for up to six of the blade switches to be logically lashed together and managed as a single IP device with a single IP address.

Like most 10GE and 40GE switches, the XML switch supports Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) for running SAN protocols over the switch, allowing for server and storage networks to be converged; the blade switch also supports the IEEE Data Center Bridging, which helps give Fibre Channel SAN traffic priority so frames relating to storage files flitting back and forth across the network don't get lost.

The Force 10 XML switch will ship this summer; pricing information was not announced.

Dell already sells a bunch of M-Series Ethernet switches for its M1000e chassis with the PowerConnect brand, including Gigabit and 10GE units as well as pass-through modules when you want the blades to reach out to a top of rack switch instead of an internal switch.

Dell also sells Catalyst blade switches made by Cisco Systems, but as you might imagine, is not particularly keen on peddling these, any more than it is happy about reselling EMC storage any more. Dell also sells its own as well as Brocade Fibre Channel switches and InfiniBand switches made by Mellanox Technologies for its M1000e chassis.

Dell is also enhancing the Force 10 Operating System (FTOS) in its switches with a bunch of new features, which were added mainly for the S4810 top-of-racker. This includes support for Layer 2 multipathing using virtual link trunking and data center bridging for iSCSI and FCoE protocols so the switches can carry converged storage and server traffic. The FTOS software is also being equipped with autoprovisioning features for virtual LANs linked to virtual machine guests on hypervisors so when the VMs live migrate around the networks, their VLANs flit along with them.

These tweaks to FTOS are available now, as is Dell's Open Manage Network Manager 5.0 management console, which spans branch, campus, and data center switches. With the 5.0 release, Dell is supporting its full line of switches, including the Force 10 gear it acquired as well as wireless controllers and access points that it peddles. OMNM 5.0 also has a new Web-based GUI (what product doesn't these days?), traffic flow analysis to deliver against quality of service guarantees for applications, and one-to-many switch configuration through resource grouping.

Finally, Dell is talking up its Distributed Core (PDF) architecture for low-latency spine-and-leaf networks. Dell has cooked up a Fabric Manager to, as the name suggests, manage the fabric created from this distributed switch setup. The Dell Fabric Manager will ship later this summer, and will be used in conjunction with the company's Force 10 Z9000 core switch. This monster has 2.5Tb/sec of switching capacity and packs 32 40GE ports into the 2U chassis, which can have port splitters to make as many as 128 10GE ports. ®

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