Alcatel-Lucent Enters Networking Fabric Fray with Cisco, Juniper

With its new data center networking solution, Alcatel-Lucent is looking to join the likes of HP, Juniper, Avaya and Brocade in eating into Cisco's sizeable market share.

Alcatel-Lucent is joining rivals Cisco Systems, Avaya and Juniper Networks on the list of network fabric vendors.

Network fabrics-or "mesh," as Alcatel-Lucent officials refer to them-are becoming a key trend in the data center, offering resources a more flattened and virtualized networking infrastructure to connect everything from servers to storage devices. Such fabrics are fueling the drive toward more converged data centers.

Juniper has its QFabric, which started life as Project Stratus a couple of years ago, while Cisco has Fabric Path, Avaya VENA (Virtual Enterprise Network Architecture) and Brocade's VCS (Virtual Cluster Switching). Cisco bulked up its networking fabric offerings as part of a larger rollout of data center offerings in late March.

Now Alcatel-Lucent is entering that fray with not only the mesh architecture, but also with a "pod" that offers a direct server-to-server traffic path without having to rely on a core switch. The new data center switching solution is built upon new and existing switches from the company, with the goal of creating an environment with lower latency and power costs, higher scalability and the ability to easily move applications across multiple sites.

The new offerings, announced April 5 at the kickoff of the company's Dyanmic Tour, include the OmniSwitch 6900 Stackable LAN Switch series top-of-rack device for 10 Gigabit Ethernet-capable servers, and the OmniVista 2500 Virtual Machine Manager, which gives enterprises automation and tracking of virtual machines, and integration with standard virtualization hypervisors. It also includes the recently released OmniSwitch 6850E Stackable LAN Switch top-of-rack technology for 1GbE-enabled servers and the OmniSwith 10K chassis, which serves as the core of the switching fabric.

Central to Alcatel-Lucent's switching strategy is what company officials are calling a pod, which enables top-of-rack switches to be directly connected and eliminates the need for the core switch, which drives latency down below two microseconds, according to Cliff Grossner, director product marketing for networking with Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise. One OmniSwitch 6900 offers up to 64 ports of 10GbE, and Grossner said the company's intent is to support 40GbE later this year.

The pod capabilities also allow for hybrid cloud environments that span multiple sites, he said.

"The data center fabric is in multiple ... sites and interconnected by the WAN, but really there is only one [networking] structure," Grossner said in an interview with eWEEK.

The company also announced vNP (Virtual Network Profile), which enables the network to manage applications like services, where the network understands each application and adapts to optimize the performance of the application.

In an April 5 blog post, Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala said the introduction of the fabric idea has re-energized a networking industry that for too long had simply been about being faster or cheaper than Cisco. The company still owns a dominant share of the market (about 70 percent), but a growing number of rivals-including Hewlett-Packard and Juniper, as well as Alcatel-Lucent, Brocade, Avaya and others-are beginning to chip away at Cisco's stake.

In addition, each vendor is bringing unique capabilities to their offerings, which will help them gain greater inroads into the market, Kerravala said.

"The solutions are different enough, and it's important enough that I think it's not a slam dunk that Cisco wins," he wrote. "The market is wide open now to the vendor that can prove a distinct advantage in the evolution of the data center."