Nortel preps big Web switch

By Jim Duffy, Network World |  Networking

SAN JOSE -- Nortel Networks is readying a high-end switch for service providers that could improve Web site and network application uptime for firms that outsource their hosting operations.

The company's Alteon 780 series Web switch, which is the first evidence of integration between Nortel's hardware products and those of acquisition Alteon, will likely be installed in large Web-hosting sites. The switches, which boast more than twice as many Fast Ethernet ports and almost double the Gigabit Ethernet ports of current top-of-the-line Alteon devices, are designed to sit in front of Web servers and distribute requests for content among those servers based on availability or traffic load.

The switches should let service providers handle more traffic on behalf of outsourcing customers more efficiently, which should translate into Web sites and hosted applications that respond to customer requests more quickly. The switches also should appeal to a broader range of service providers, which means companies may have more providers to choose from for their outsourced operations.

The 780 series will be based on Nortel's 10-slot Passport 8600 Layer 3 switch chassis and modules implementing Alteon's Layer 4 to Layer 7 switching technology. The Alteon technology looks deep into packets to determine the content request and direct it to the appropriate server, balance server traffic, manage bandwidth and perform other functions.

"Nortel needs to do something with its Alteon acquisition," says Joel Conover, a senior analyst at Current Analysis. "It needs to make its presence better felt in both the enterprise and service provider marketplaces. I don't think it's done a particularly good job of following through in those spaces after the various acquisitions."

The 780 will dramatically expand the Ethernet port density of Nortel's current high-end content switch offerings, the Alteon 708 and 714. The switch will replace the 14-slot 714, Nortel says. (Sources expect Nortel to unveil copper-based Gigabit Ethernet interfaces for the 708 this year, as well as VPN and streaming media load-balancing features for corporations and service providers.)

The 780 will sport up to 336 Fast Ethernet or 56 Gigabit Ethernet ports. Conversely, the Alteon 714 supports up to 128 Fast Ethernet or 32 Gigabit Ethernet ports; the eight-slot Alteon 708 provides up to 64 Fast Ethernet or 16 Gigabit Ethernet ports.

The 780 will also bring packet-over-SONET interfaces to the Alteon Web switches for the first time, expanding WAN options for users.

The 780 will let Nortel better compete with Foundry Networks and its ServerIron 400 and 800 offerings. The 780 will have twice the 10/100M bit/sec Ethernet port density of Foundry's ServerIron 800, while matching its Gigabit Ethernet port count.

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