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Building a 10 GigE storage network

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Growing use of 10 GigE

In the last few years, however, 10 GigE has been increasingly deployed not only at the network switch but within application servers. Although it’s still somewhat expensive, the price per port for 10 GigE technology has dropped enough to make it viable for more organizations. Many of the blade servers introduced in the last two or three years have two or more 10 GigE ports on the blade chassis that allow for increased total bandwidth into and out of the blade chassis. More recently, 10GBASE-T was introduced, which makes 10 GigE technology available with cabling and connectors that are very similar to the familiar Cat 5e and Cat 6 cables we use today for Gigabit Ethernet.

Servers, solid-state spur adoption

In early 2012, another event occurred that’s expected to stimulate the adoption of 10 GigE. The major server vendors introduced new servers built around Intel’s newest server processors (Intel Xeon E5 series, formerly known as “Romley”) that have options for 10 GigE connections directly on the motherboard or a nearby daughterboard. By having 10 GigE as a factory option on individual servers, the transition to 10 GigE is expected to be easier and more appealing to a larger number of organizations.

In addition to server virtualization driving the need for more network bandwidth,

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solid-state storage or solid-state drive (SSD) technology is also driving up CPU and network utilization. As SSDs in various form factors are deployed more widely, storage performance (typically among the slowest performing parts of an IT infrastructure) is increasing, which has a ripple effect on other technologies. We’ve observed in our Demartek Labs testing that SSDs and 10 GigE go well together.

Due to all these factors, some industry analysts who observe the networking market are making some pretty strong predictions about the growth of the 10 GigE market over the next three or four years. At Demartek Labs, we’re conducting an increasing number of server and storage hardware and software tests that require or prefer 10 GigE.

10 GigE ports

One of the advantages 10 GigE has over 1 GigE is that 10x more bandwidth can be achieved in the same form factor. This applies to switch ports and host adapter ports. In a host server, for example, if eight 1 GigE NIC ports are required, this can be achieved by using two quad-port, four dual-port or eight single-port NICs. This consumes either two, four or eight I/O slots in the server and results in eight cables running from the server. This may work for some environments, but not all servers have that many slots or you may want to use some of the server I/O slots for other purposes, such as RAID controllers, Fibre Channel host bus adapters (HBAs), PCI Express (PCIe) SSDs and so on. Using 10 GigE, one dual-port 10 GigE NIC could be used and it would provide more than the bandwidth of eight 1 GigE NIC ports on a single port with still another port for failover or other management purposes. This would consume only one I/O slot, freeing up I/O slots and potentially consuming less electrical power. It would also require no more than two cables. Alternatively, the same dual-port 10 GigE NIC could be placed into a smaller form factor server, such as a 1U server with only a couple of slots, while still providing plenty of network bandwidth.

A dual-port 10 GigE NIC requires a PCIe 2.0 x8 slot to ensure maximum bandwidth at full duplex operation. Some dual-port 10 GigE NICs support PCIe 1.0 x16 slots. A single-port 10 GigE NIC can work in a PCIe 1.0 x8 slot or a PCIe 2.0 x4 slot. PCIe 3.0 slots aren’t required for a dual-port 10 GigE NIC, and true PCIe 3.0 Ethernet adapters won’t be available until probably late 2012 or 2013.

This was first published in July 2012

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