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This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala's blog.

It’s certainly been an exciting month for Extreme Networks. Earlier this month, the company closed the acquisition of Enterasys and announced earnings that Wall Street liked so much that the stock shot up 20% to a five-year high.

And this week the company announced its new Summit X770 top-of-rack (ToR) switch. The X770 is a 1RU switch but has a whopping 104 10 Gig-E ports on it, which makes it the highest-density 1 RU switch that I know of. Alternatively, customers can get 32–40 Gig-E ports from the switch.

Why might anyone need this many ports and that much bandwidth in a single RU switch? Well, the answer is bandwidth, and there’s certainly no shortage of new bandwidth-generating applications in the data center today. Extreme is focusing this particular switch on “Big Data” environments, which is a sound strategy given the momentum behind big data today and the reliance on the network.

For those that haven’t followed the trends in big data, it’s a term used to describe the analytics done on all kinds of data – unstructured, structured, transactional, observational and so on. Pull a bunch of data from a number of different sources across the network, do some analytical work on it, and then use this to make important decisions for the company.

My personal belief is that we’ve just scratched the surface regarding big data, as the more things we connect, the more data we have from more places. A couple of weeks ago I was at the Internet of Things World Forum, and that entire industry is based on the concept of connecting all the unconnected things in our lives. The key to many of the products there, like smart vending machines, parking meters, water pumps and electric meters? Big data analytics.

Big data, though, does create a number of network challenges. The network needs to be robust but then have the ability to scale out rapidly without doing a rip and replace and without significant cost. Also, the network needs to be low-latency, resilient and be highly flexible.

Extreme built the X770 with these thoughts in mind. In addition, the high-density 10 Gig-E and 40 Gig-E, the product supports TRILL to remove the need for Spanning Tree (STP), which enables high resiliency without the overhead and complexity of STP.

The X770 is an optimal switch for “leaf–spine” configurations, which is important for big data analytics. The concept of consolidated or virtual networks isn’t ideal for big data. This type of application requires high bandwidth and low latency. The compute stack for big data normally isn’t virtualized because of performance demands, so it wouldn’t make sense to do so with the network. The leaf–spine architecture allows for rapid scale out while maintaining wire speed and low latency.

One other thing I thought was well thought-out by Extreme is that the Summit X770 is backwards compatible with other Extreme products. This is important for virtual stacking capabilities but also allows customers to migrate to the leaf–spine without having to do a rip and replace.

Most of the networking industry has focused on virtual networking and consolidation, but not every workload warrants that. The Extreme X770 is a good reminder that sometimes low latency and bandwidth is still needed for demanding workloads like big data.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.

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