Extreme Networks has announced general availability of its BlackDiamond X8 modular Ethernet switch, billed as the “fastest Ethernet switch in the world”.

The BlackDiamond X8 takes up one-third of a data centre rack and has a switching capacity of over 20Tbps, or 1.28Tbps per slot. It can support 768 wire-speed 10G Ethernet ports – which is industry-leading density – and 192 wire-speed 40G Ethernet ports, according to Extreme.

Port-to-port latency on the X8 is less than 3 microseconds. It consumes 5 watts per 10G port and supports 128,000 virtual machines, the company said. The switch, together with the ExtremeXOS operating system, is at the heart of Extreme's Open Fabric architecture, which enables interoperable data centre fabrics and supports Software Defined Networking (SDN), helping to reduce operational complexity.

“Extreme Networks' Open Fabric architecture solution allows customers to build the highest density networks and manage the largest data centres on an open platform,” said Shehzad Merchant, vice president of technology at Extreme Networks.

“With an open fabric, you can take our BlackDiamond X8 fabric switch and use anybody's top-of-rack switch, because it uses an open technology. That's very important because when you think about it from a migration perspective, typically people have a lot of technology already deployed in their data centre, and with a proprietary solution you have to rip everything out.”

The list price for a 10G port on the BlackDiamond X8 is $1,000 (£638), and $4,000 (£2,553) for a 40G port. 

In independent performance tests by Lippis Reports in October 2011, the BlackDiamond X8 tested 3-10X faster than any core Ethernet switch in its form factor, and had the lowest latency and best power efficiency per port. Nick Lippis, principal analyst for The Lippis Report, described it as “the best-in-class choice for high-performance networks”.

The Wellcome Sanger Trust Institute of United Kingdom was the first customer to purchase the BlackDiamond X8. Sanger Trust was the first research institution to map the human genome.

Extreme believes that the launch of Intel's 10G Ethernet 'LAN-on-Motherboard' device later this year will drive pricing of 10Gb Ethernet down significantly, as well as bringing relief to a lot of customers that have now hit a wall in terms of performance.

“Back in 2009-2010, putting four or eight virtual machines on a server was significant. Today we have customers routinely putting 32 or 64 virtual machines on a server, and that is pushing a lot of traffic directly out of the server network edge, so being able to move that server network edge to a multiple 10Gb is going to be pretty critical,” said Merchant.

Meanwhile, other networking company are rolling out their own modular 40Gbps Ethernet products. Dell's Z9512 supports 96 line rate 40G ports, and Cisco and other data centre switching vendors are expected to see some ramp in their own 40G switches and port modules this year.