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Building a 10 GigE storage network

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10 GigE adapters

Additional features are available with 10 GigE adapters. There are versions of these adapters from several adapter vendors that have TCP/IP offload engines (TOE), iSCSI offload, Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) or all three. These can improve performance in some instances, and in most cases reduce the host CPU utilization by offloading these functions onto the adapter. The adapters that support TCP/IP, iSCSI offload and FCoE together are known as

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converged network adapters (CNAs) and provide an interesting blend of traffic on the same wire at the same time. This function requires Data Center Bridging (DCB) in the switch to operate. Demartek Labs has published plenty about how this works, as well as the results of some of our lab results. Some performance reports are available on Demartek’s FCoE Zone website.

Most of the Ethernet switch vendors provide 10 GigE switches with a variety of port counts and some with support for DCB. Some of these switches have ports than can support both 1 GigE and 10 GigE, provided the same form factor of connector is used for both. If your switches have ports that support both speeds with the appropriate transceivers or connectors, this can help smooth the transition to 10 GigE.

Connectors and cables

There are basically two common styles of connectors and cables used for 10 GigE. The most common today is the SFP+ connector, which can be used with fiber-optic cables or copper cables. For fiber-optic cables, these are known as OM3, OM4 or OS1. These days, OM4 is the recommended multi-mode fiber-optic cable for 10 GigE, but OM3 is generally considered to be a minimum requirement. OS1 is used for very long distances, up to 10 km or 6.2 miles. SFP+ connectors are also available on copper cables with the distance limited to within a rack or a nearby rack.

The other 10 GigE form factor that’s beginning to gain a great deal of attention is 10GBASE-T. This style of cable isn’t directly compatible with SFP+ but uses the familiar RJ45 plug on the cable. The recommendation for 10GBASE-T is to use Cat 6a or Cat 7 cable, but Cat 6 can work for distances up to 55 meters. Cat 5e cable isn’t recommended for 10 GigE. Adapter vendors are making models of their 10 GigE adapters with either SFP+ or 10GBASE-T ports.

The majority of 10 GigE switches support SFP+ connectors and transceivers, but we’re seeing a number of 10 GigE switches that support 10GBASE-T. The 10GBASE-T products have been a few years behind the SFP+ products, but the 10GBASE-T form factor is expected to gain acceptance more quickly. Some switches are becoming available that have SFP+ ports and 10GBASE-T ports.

A wider wire

10 GigE promises to deliver a lot more networking “punch” while consuming fewer server I/O slots and less cabling. 10 GigE switches provide the opportunity to consolidate networks into simpler infrastructures and network topologies because a large number of 1 GigE ports can be combined into 10 GigE ports while providing more total bandwidth.

BIO: Dennis Martin has been working in the IT industry since 1980, and is the founder and president of Demartek, a computer industry analyst organiz

This was first published in July 2012

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