New Options for Top-of-the-Rack

Arthur Cole

In these days of converged networking and massive expansions of core switching capabilities, it's easy to forget the critical function that the smaller pieces of the data center infrastructure play in overall data efficiency.

One of the key players, particularly in high-count blade architectures, is the top-of-rack (TOR) switch, which acts as the liaison between high-performance, and usually virtualized, server environments and the backbone network.

Fortunately, a new breed of TOR technologies is hitting the channel that should vastly improve network latency by freeing up the bottlenecks that arise when bandwidth is restricted at key points in the data path.

BLADE Network Technologies recently unveiled a new single-chip 40 GbE solution that handles more than 1 Tb of non-blocking throughput. The G8624 provides up to 64 10 GbE ports and four 40 GbE ports and is packed with an internal fabric mechanism that reduces latency and ensures even distribution of data across multiple port combinations. It's also TRILL-compliant and conforms to the VMReady format for easy integration into VMware environments. Expect to see the G8624 and others like as part of IBM blade configurations once

Big Blue's acquisition of BLADE is finalized, probably by the end of the year.

Another option is Super Micro's new SSE-X24S, a 24-port 10 GbE device that shares a common management interface and feature set as the company's existing 1 and 10 GbE Layer 2/3 switches for its SuperBlade line. This makes it easier for enterprises to consolidate network, server and storage environments by providing an integrated set of pooled resources that can be scaled to varying data loads. The switch was introduced at Storage Networking World in conjunction with a new double-sided storage server that cuts down rack footprints in the data center.

Meanwhile, Force10 Networks is out with the new S55 1/10 GbE TOR switch that provides up to 48 1 GbE access ports and four 10 GbE uplinks of non-blocking, line rate switching. Options include front-to-back or back-to-front airflow, redundant, hot-swappable AC or DC power, four SFP ports and the ability to stack the devices up to eight high. The unit also supports Force10's Open Automation Framework for improved management in virtual and consolidated environments.

Edge networking may not draw the kinds of "oohs" and "aahs" that the massive core devices bring, but they are nonetheless crucial components in the drive for greater efficiency in hardware architectures. Remember, network efficiency is only as good as the narrowest path, and the widest highway on Earth won't improve traffic flow if all the on- and off-ramps are single-lane dirt roads.

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