10Gig Ethernet is now ready for server clustering, claimed Force10 Networks as it introduced the high-density and low-latency S2410, which offers 24 switched 10Gig ports in a 1U box.

According to Force10's Steve Garrison, the new switch's latency of around 300ns is similar to that of InfiniBand and Myrinet, both of which are popular for building supercomputing clusters, and an order of magnitude better than existing 10Gig Ethernet switches.

It is also much cheaper per port than current 10Gig switches - an S2410 with 24 CX4 ports for copper cabling will list for around £8,250, while a version with XFP fibre ports will be around £11,500.

The speed and pricing advances make it especially suitable for data centre networking applications such as clustering and application virtualisation, Garrison claimed.

He said Force10 achieved this by taking out the Layer 3 features that go into its other switch/routers, and making the S2410 a pure Layer 2 switch with no expansion capability.

"There's nothing proprietary about it," he explained. "It's a closed system, purpose-built around one ASIC and a crossbar switch.

"All Ethernet switches today are store and forward, but that's not what InfiniBand or Myrinet do. So we re-invented the wheel and made it a cut-through switch, like the early Ethernet switches."

That means it forwards data as soon as it arrives, without waiting to reassemble packets. However, this also makes the S2410 unsuitable for LAN applications, Garrison said. He added that a clustered server would typically have two network ports, one for the cluster interconnect and one running to a standard LAN switch for I/O.

However, Garrison's opposite number at InfiniBand specialist SilverStorm Technologies (formerly Infinicon) said that Ethernet may be cheaper than it was, but it still cannot touch InfiniBand on cost or speed.

"I had to chuckle a bit when I saw Force10's news, how their pricing is down to $900 per port," said Reini Florin, SilverStorm's marketing VP. "Ours right now is about one-third of that for 10Gig and half that for 20Gig."

He added that InfiniBand is cheaper at the server end too, estimating that a 10Gig InfiniBand host adapter would be around $125, versus Garrison's estimate of $500-plus for a 10Gig Ethernet NIC.

"The standards body did a really good job of specifying InfiniBand," Florin added, noting that it has already moved from 10Gig to double-data-rate 20Gig, and will move on to quad-data-rate 40Gig next year.

Garrison said though that the S2410 is part of a long term strategy for Force10: "We are letting data centre managers know that they can stay on Ethernet," he declared.

"Other switch developers will be able to copy our idea, but we're first and we think we're six months ahead of the rest. We want to capture mindshare with the idea that Ethernet isn't always too-high latency."