NAS adoption may be influenced by 10 Gigabit Ethernet pricing

As prices drop, 10 Gigabit Ethernet will play a role in NAS adoption for some IT shops, especially those interested in extra bandwidth for virtual server environments.

Faster 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE) network technology isn't the primary driver of NAS adoption in IT organizations, but it may become increasingly important as pricing for the technology drops.

For example, when Rochester, N.Y., law firm Nixon Peabody LLP looked to add new storage for a VMware Inc. server consolidation project more than two years ago, the decision to use an NFS-based NAS system from NetApp Inc. went hand-in-hand with its consideration of 10 Gigabit Ethernet.

"We knew our storage requirements were going to grow fairly rapidly over time, and we wanted to make sure that there were no bottlenecks in the delivery of the data over the network," said Peter Allen, Nixon Peabody's director of IT, who noted that the system now serves up more than 30 TB of litigation support data.

Allen figured the 10 Gigabit Ethernet pipe would be "much less complex" than loading up a bunch of Gigabit Ethernet connections and bonding them together. He said that if 10 Gigabit Ethernet hadn't been an available option, he likely would have expanded the firm's Fibre Channel (GC) SAN infrastructure.

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"The fact that we could deploy 10 GbE made the decision to go with IP-based storage much easier," Allen said. He said the price was "about a wash" in comparison with the cost of expanding the SAN, but a NAS system was easier to deploy and offered "the ability to grow and shrink storage on the fly" with VMware.

The law firm's 10 Gigabit Ethernet deployment was cutting-edge, Allen said. More than two years later, Gigabit Ethernet remains the most prevalent technology in NAS environments. So far, 10 Gigabit Ethernet has tended to find its most receptive audience among large hosting companies and scale-out NAS customers that need the extra throughput and bandwidth for applications such as Web 2.0 and video streaming.

That could start to change as the price of 10 Gigabit Ethernet technology continues to plummet from its current range of $500 per port. Rick Villars, vice president of storage systems and executive strategies at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, said server manufacturers claim 10 Gigabit Ethernet will be the default in future shipments, and NAS system vendors will also beef up their 10 Gigabit Ethernet support as they transition to Intel Corp.'s next-generation Nehalem processor.

Villars said the "break-out" area that could spur interest in 10 Gigabit Ethernet NAS is data center consolidation, including file servers and NAS systems. "The move to 10 GbE is definitely going to open up places where people will consider using NAS," he said. "You may start seeing more people looking at NAS systems for their virtual server environments, because you'll have performance now."

Bob Laliberte, a senior analyst at Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group, said loading multiple workloads via virtual machines onto a single physical server could spur interest in 10 Gigabit Ethernet, especially with users currently without FC SAN or networked storage. Other applications for which 10 Gigabit Ethernet may be a key enabler include cloud and large distributed file systems, he said.

"10 GbE starts taking away some of the performance concerns. Before it was 8 Gbps Fibre Channel vs. 1 GbE. Now it's 10 GbE against 8 Gbps [Fibre Channel]," Laliberte said.

But Bob Passmore, a research vice president at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., predicted that Gigabit Ethernet will be slow to die. He said cheaper Gigabit Ethernet has proven sufficient for most applications, and users had to have good reason to justify the added expense for 10 Gigabit Ethernet since it started shipping approximately seven years ago.

"There's always niches in the market like high-performance computing or video distribution and streaming or video editing where, quite frankly, InfiniBand has been king," Passmore said. "There are a number of those situations where 10 GbE will probably jump in and become the norm, but 10 GbE prices have to come down a little more than where they are right now. Wait another year and 10 GbE will be a lot cheaper than InfiniBand."

Passmore said the shift to 10 Gigabit Ethernet NAS systems will be a "slow evolutionary process," and 10 Gigabit Ethernet won't be the most important technology driving the growth of NAS. Security features, deduplication and other factors will play a larger role, he said.

"10 GbE by itself will not spur NAS adoption, nor will NAS adoption spur 10 GbE by itself. However, the two are very complementary," said Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at Stillwater, Minn.-based StorageIO Group, in an email to SearchStorage.com.

This was first published in April 2010

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