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Voltaire unveils new 10 GbE switch

There’s a new Ethernet switch vendor on the market as lines are being drawn in the sand about the future of data center networks.

Voltaire, previously focused mainly on InfiniBand switches, today unveiled its entree into the data center Ethernet market, the Voltaire Vantage 8500. The Layer 2 Ethernet switch is based on some of Voltaire’s existing InfiniBand IP, including its 11.5 Tbps chassis. It can support up to 288 non-blocking Ethernet ports, and up to 12 chassis can be combined in a cluster using Voltaire’s Scale Out Fabric (VSOF) software. The product will become available in the second half of 2009.

As the ripple effect of server virtualization moves through the data center infrastructure, networking vendors are establishing their philosophies about what the next-generation network should look like. Cisco has come out this year with its Unified Computing System (UCS) blade server product, has aggressively advanced the concept of Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), and is looking to offer customers vertically-integrated, turnkey infrastructures all from its own product portfolio. Brocade, on the other hand, is cozying up to partners Cisco alienated with UCS — mainly IBM and Hewlett-Packard — while developing FC and Ethernet separately alongside FCoE.

Voltaire shares some of Brocade’s philosophy, particularly when it comes to partnerships rather than trying to own the whole infrastructure stack. Voltaire is even less bullish on FCoE than Brocade, which has already released FCoE switches and has pledged it will release FCoE converged network adapters (CNAs). “FCoE is part of our story, but adoption will take longer than people anticipate,” Voltaire vice president of marketing Asaf Somekh says.

The Vantage 8500 is “FCoE ready,” but Voltaire is focused on the data center Ethernet (DCE, also often called Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE)) for now.

Voltaire isn’t the only InfiniBand vendor to play the consolidation game. Voltaire’s InfiniBand rival Mellanox has switches and gateways that support InfiniBand, Ethernet and Fibre Channel on the same device. QLogic is one of the early leaders in FCoE, and also sells InfiniBand switches as well as FC Host Bus Adapters (HBAs).

“It’s interesting to see what InfiniBand vendors are bringing to Ethernet,” said Taneja Group analyst Jeff Boles. “You see some innovation in the communictions stack and they deliver more performance than you get from traditional Ethernet products up front.”

InfiniBand has also been a unified network for a while, so InfiniBand vendors “are used to taking a different look at the fabric than SAN vendors – similar to Finisar’s NetWisdom [SAN monitoring device],” Boles says. “You look at that and say, why couldn’t I get this from Cisco for MDS three or four years ago, when I needed it?”

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