Enterasys is introducing a major upgrade to its Ethernet switch line in an effort to better serve converged networks, including those that are heavily virtualised.

The S-Series boasts an almost fourfold increase in switching capacity and a 10x increase in throughput over the predecessor N-Series, plus greater 10G port density. In addition, the switches come with improved policy-based security features, a traditional Enterasys differentiator.

All that, plus efficient Power-over-Ethernet provisioning, should enable customers to better network VoIP, wireless LAN and assorted data centre products, including those from Siemens Enterprise Communications Group, the outfit Enterasys merged with last year.

The rollout also could catalyse Enterasys' share of the $19 billion Ethernet switching market, which has been essentially flat (Dell-Oro Group says the vendor's share was 1.3% in the third quarter of 2007 and 1.1% as recently as the second quarter of 2009).

Analysts say it's about time Enterasys refreshed the top line. The N-Series is several years old, and though enhanced several times over that period, it still wasn't fully convergence capable.

"They ran out of room on the backplane of the N," says Steve Schuchart of Current Analysis. "Different sheet metal is required – if you need S-Series capability, you need a new switch."

The S-Series switching line is comprised of 1U, 3-slot, 4 -slot, and 8-slot chassis, depending on the application: a network edge access switch, distribution layer switch, a multi-terabit core router, or as a data centre virtualisation system.

For virtualised environments, the S-Series can be configured and policy-defined to identify virtual hosts supported by VMware, XenServer and HyperV hypervisors and assign ports, access controls and class of service parameters for each, Enterasys says. These policies can then follow the virtual server as it moves around the data centre, the company says.

For cloud computing, Enterasys says the S-Series can identify on-demand applications, automatically prioritise them based on user ID, and authorise and control network access.

Total switching capacity for the S-Series initially is 1.28Tbps and throughput measures 950Mpps, Enterasys says. The S-Series backplane, though, is designed to support greater than 6Tbps of capacity, the company says.

The N-Series topped out at 1.68Tbps and 94.5Mpps.

The system is capable of 160Gbps per slot supporting up to 128 10G ports, 100 more than the N-Series. This capacity also prepares the switch for 40/100Gbps Ethernet, expected next year.

The S-Series also includes many standard features that competitors might charge extra for. They include:

  • Automated provisioning of virtual and physical server connectivity;
  • A distributed switching and system management architecture;
  • Self-healing functionality, in which switching and routing applications are distributed across multiple modules in the event of a module failure;
  • Multiple discovery methods, such as Cisco Discovery Protocol and LLDP-MED, to identify and provision services to IP phones and wireless access points from major vendors;
  • And automatic upgrade, reload or rollback of firmware on each module.

"One of the real potentials of the switch is that you're going to be able to put rules on there that go all the way down to Layer 7," says the telecom manager of a major American university, and a large Enterasys customer who asked not to be named. "That switch has a lot more capability when it comes to policy and rules."

But a disadvantage, he says, is what Schuchart alluded to in "different sheet metal" - the S-Series modules will not work in the N-Series chassis.

The S-Series also does not support virtual switching, or chassis "bonding," in which a user can combine switches into one to pool bandwidth to increase performance.

It's akin to Cisco's Virtual Switching System 1440 capability for its Catalyst 6500 switches. The S-series is expected to compete squarely with the Catalyst 6500 and 4500s from Cisco – Enterasys claims the S-Series switches cost 20% less and are more than four times as power efficient as those products.

The university customer says that chassis bonding feature may be added to the S-Series in a year or two.

But the code base for the switches remains the same, says the user, who adds that he expects to replace roughly half of his 127 N-Series switches with the S-Series over the next three years.

"We're real excited about the product," he says. "We'd buy more if we could."

Enterasys S-Series products are priced from $15,995.

Enterasys is the network infrastructure division of Siemens Enterprise Communications Group.