Dell TOR Switch Rides 10-Gbit Copper Transition

Dell has announced the S4820T top-of-rack switch, which provides a migration from 1- to 10-Gbit connections using twisted-pair copper connectivity, plus links to 40-Gbit Ethernet fabric uplinks.

Dell’s selling points aren’t flashy—the switch doesn’t break any new ground as far as speed is concerned. Instead, Dell’s new TOR switch simply allows a data-center operator to keep the twisted-pair copper cabling that he or she may already have invested in, all while stepping up to the 10-Gbit tier.

Dell’s TOR switch costs $35,000. For the money, users receive a 1 RU switch with 48 line-rate 1G/10G BASE-T ports, plus 4 line-rate 40GbE QSFP+ ports. The Dell S4820T is powered by the Force10 operating system (FTOS) and designed to support both Layer 2 and Layer 3 functionality for Web 2.0, enterprise and cloud server provider data centers.

The switch is also one of the first copper-based 10G switches in the industry to support Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) using twisted-pair cabling. To that end, the S4820T is being lab tested by leading 10GBASE-T network interface card and converged network adapter vendors including Broadcom, Emulex, Intel and QLogic.

Dell began getting serious in networking in 2010, when it hired Dario Zamarian away from Cisco and put him in charge of developing Dell’s own product line, rather than reselling products from other vendors. Dell may not be leading the pack, but it’s riding the wave of the ongoing 10-Gbit BASE-T transition that analysts have been tracking for some time.

“Given the mid-2012 step-function increase in 10GBASE-T server adapter and LAN-on-Motherboard shipments and subsequent introduction of numerous attractively-priced 10GBASE-T data center switches, we expect exponential growth in 10GBASE-T switch port shipments,” Seamus Crehan, president of Crehan Research, wrote in a report issued this month.

Crehan predicts that the transition to 10GbE on the server adapter and LAN-on-motherboard market should occur in 2014, when 10 GbE will have the largest impact and is expected to account for more than 60 percent of the total bandwidth. In turn, that will place more demands on the switch gear and should provide some guidance as to future products from Dell and its rivals.

“Furthermore, with the default inclusion of a four-port GbE Modular LOM on many Romley-based volume enterprise servers, the native Ethernet networking bandwidth (and number of ports) on these servers has been doubled at no additional price to customers,” he added.

The Dell’Oro Group (no relation to Dell) agreed. “We expect the Ethernet Switch market to experience two significant years of market growth in 2013 and 2014 from the migration of servers towards 10 Gigabit Ethernet,” Alan Wecke, a senior director at Dell’Oro, wrote in a statement.  “We believe that in 2013, most large enterprises will upgrade to 10 Gigabit Ethernet for server access through a mix of connectivity options ranging from blade servers, SFP+, SFP+ direct attach and 10GBASE-T.”

Dell also announced the commercial availability of OpenFlow for its FTOS code base, which allows a customer to basically abstract the switch workings through an open protocol. Available now for the Dell Z9000 and S4810 data center switches, the new software is fully compliant with available standards-based OpenFlow controllers, including the Big Switch Controller from Dell partner Big Switch Networks.

Dell acquired Force10 in 2011 and made the technology the heart of its Virtual Network Architecture, marrying it with the Dell MXL 10/40 GbE blade switch. The MXl routes traffic “east to west,” without the need to go up and down the network topology while freeing up network resources.

 

Crehan Research’s predictions for the transition to 10GbE.

 

Image: Crehan Research

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