Dell, HP unveil top-of-rack switches at VMworld

SAN FRANCISCO — Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. each unveiled new top-of-rack data center switches with high-density 40 Gigabit Ethernet ports at VMworld this week, further cementing the show’s relevance to the networking industry.

The two IT giants announced their new switches as part of their overall participation in the partner ecosystem for VMware Inc.’s NSX network virtualization platform. The switches support VXLAN tunnel termination, enabling NSX to integrate bare-metal server workloads into VMware’s virtual network. Dell’s switch also has VMware’s VXLAN termination endpointsoftware, which allows NSX to provision connectivity through the switch for bare-metal server workloads.

The switches represent the ongoing advancement of top-of-rack switches with throughput and port density to handle servers with 10 Gb interfaces. They also have enough density and bandwidth to support a wide variety of deployments.

Devices push beyond top-of-rack needs, analyst said

Specifically, HP Networking announced the FlexFabric 5930AF, a one-rack unit switch with 32 QSFP+ (Quad Small Form-factor Pluggable Plus) ports, giving customers the option of 32 40 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports or 128 10 GbE ports at the top of a server rack. The switch, which supports OpenFlow, is engineered with 1.28 Tbps of total switching capacity. It will be available in December.

Dell announced the S6000, a one-rack unit switch with 96 10 GbE ports, 8 40 GbE ports and 2.56 Tbps of total switching capacity. The switch will be available in October.

“That pushes well beyond what you need for top of rack,” said Joe Skorupa, research vice president for Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner, and who said these switches are capable of serving as end-of-row devices.

In fact, Dell is positioning the S6000 for multiple deployments, according to Arpit Joshipura, Dell Networking’s vice president of product marketing. The switch, he said, is suitable for end of row, top of rack, leaf spine and even middle of row.

Middle of row has been done at Gigabit Ethernet speeds for years, Skorupa said, where companies deployed a modular switch like the Cisco Catalyst 6500 between two rows of server racks and plug all the servers directly into the switch. Middle-of-row switches offer savings because admins have fewer switches to buy and manage.

“[They] work well with Gigabit Ethernet because at that speed you can have long distances on cheap copper cabling,” he said.

However, at 10 GbE and above, a middle-of-row deployment would require long runs of expensive fiber cables and optics, which could negate any operational savings. Skorupa said organizations will have to calculate which deployment option offers the best combination of operational and capital costs.

Dell believes the S6000 could be a good middle-of-row switch for midmarket companies, given the affordability of fixed-form factor switches versus a modular switch like the Catalyst 6500.

“It’s interesting how [the S6000] can be deployed in a relatively flat network for midsized companies,” said Brad Casemore, research director for Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. “It could even serve as a core switch for midmarket organizations that haven’t been able to afford this kind of performance before.”