Alcatel has launched the OmniSwitch 9000 core switch family, aiming the 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches at enterprises looking at network expansion.

The two models, the OmniSwitch 9700 and 9800, are aimed at the enterprise datacentre and address companies' need for better QoS, scalability, security, and VoIP and multicast application support, said Brian Witt, director of product marketing for Alcatel's data networking products.

"10 Gig to the desktop is realistic now," said Steve Schuchart, a senior analyst at Current Analysis. "We're starting to see 10 Gig NICs and servers that can do 10 Gig come out. If you want to run VoIP, or run 10 Gig to the desktop, you'll need to put in 10 Gig from your wiring closet to the aggregation layer or aggregation layer to the core."

The OmniSwitch 9700 has a 10-slot chassis, and the 9800 has an 18-slot chassis; components on both are hot-swappable and fully redundant. Both switch models have built-in support for IPv4, IPv6, multicasting, and server clustering and high-availability features.

While some of those technologies aren't yet standard in the enterprise, companies should take them into account when planning future network expansion strategies and equipment purchases, said Witt.

"The next generation of a 10 Gig network that an enterprise buys, the backbone of that has about a four- to six-year lifetime," he explained. "Clearly there are some market segments where IPv6 is a strong requirement today, but for the broader enterprise market and considering this five-year lifetime, we think people should be deploying IPv6-capable switches and future-proofing their network now."

The OmniSwitch 9000 has a throughput of more than 570 Mbit/s and a 768 Gbit/s switching rate over a 1.92 TBit/s backplane. Its port density is average - the 9800 has 348 ports at Gigabit Ethernet rates - but although some 10 Gigabit vendors have been touting higher and higher port densities, it may be "a little bit of a red herring" because few customers need such high density numbers, said Schuchart. In the case of the 9000 line, he believes its density will probably get better in the future. But right now, it's the software that makes the difference.

"From a software standpoint, Alcatel has always had a very good security focus and a very good manageability focus. They've got a good focus on QoS," explained Schuchart, noting that those three points continue to hold true in the OmniSwitch 9000 family.

Guillaume Ivaldi, product line manager for the OmniSwitch 9000, said security is done via port-based authentication; there's also a quarantine manager for isolating potential network threats. The switches come with a web-based management console and have a smart networking interface with smart forwarding features. Centralized management is available through Alcatel's OmniVista console as well.

"At this point, we're talking about routing, tunneling, and full QoS and filtering on IPv6, in addition to IPv4," Ivaldi said, adding that the switches also support most current multicast routing protocols. Multicast support becomes critical as companies adopt more video, real-time collaboration, and storage applications that affect traffic and bandwidth distribution.

Indeed, much of 10 Gig's value to the enterprise comes in the form of handling bandwidth-heavy applications that often run in the background, noted Schuchart.

"During the day, you're probably not using 10 Gig to the fullest," he said. "But at night when you're trying to back up the servers, you're going to be hitting it pretty hard, and probably in bursts."