Slowly but surely, 10GbE makes its way

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Predictions of when 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) will become more widely adopted generally settle in at mid-2008 at the earliest, and the market appears to be on track given several recent 10GbE announcements. In varying degrees, these latest developments address 10GbE's greatest adoption barriers; namely, affordability, power consumption and support for a wide variety of Ethernet networking protocols.

Chip vendor Broadcom recently rolled out its first 10GbE converged network interface controller, the NetXtreme II BCM57710. It processes network protocols on the chip and will support Microsoft Windows TCP Chimney Offload engine, remote direct memory access (RDMA) and iSCSI block storage, while using fewer than 7 watts of power. NetEffect has announced that its dual-port 10GbE iWarp adapter will be available late summer. It also uses fewer than 7 watts of power and will support TCP Chimney, iSCSI, iSCSI Extensions for RDMA (iSER), NFS and NFS over RDMA; list price will be $1,195.

Chelsio Communications, whose products have slightly higher power consumption, is overhauling its pricing structure. The firm announced its latest dual-port 10GbE storage accelerator, the S320E-CX, at a price of $1,495. It's also dropping prices across its Ethernet adapter family, including its N310E-SR 10GbE adapter, which now lists at $1,095 (formerly $1,295), and the N310E-CX, which now lists at $695 (previously $795).

All of these products claim to facilitate a networking fabric that can interconnect storage, networking and clustered environments. But the ability to support a converged network hangs on whether a product can support all of the Ethernet traffic protocols available. Most currently offer support for some, but not all, protocols. For example, Broadcom has enabled support for TCP Chimney and Layer 2 protocols, but iSCSI support isn't expected until production time later this year, says the company.

Nevertheless, convergence is clearly where the industry is headed. "It's a question of who gets there at the time when it's really needed," says Bob Wheeler, senior analyst for networking silicon at The Linley Group, Mountain View, CA. "It's really challenging to actually support all of these various off-loads across all the operating systems and do it in a cost-effective and power-efficient way."

Woven Systems is also helping drive down 10GbE prices. The market newcomer unveiled its 10GbE switch, the EFX 1000 Ethernet Fabric Switch, which offers as many as 144 10GbE ports at $1,500 per port--the lowest per-port price to date. The EFX 1000 provides multipath fabrics, and can automatically detect packet congestion and redirect traffic to less-congested paths. By comparison, its nearest competitor, Foundry Networks, offers BigIron RX-32, a competing switch with 128 10GbE ports, at a base cost of $1,523 per port.

"The impact of Woven [Systems] will be that they will be a disruptive technology; they'll force Cisco to drop their prices and probably copy their technology and get it more widely deployed," says Andrew Reich-mann, an analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA.

While 10GbE is typically perceived as a technology that could boost iSCSI adoption once it becomes more affordable, analysts say the technology could have the same or stronger impact on Fibre Channel over Ethernet, a protocol backed by several of the major storage vendors that could rival iSCSI despite its current lack of standardization.

"For environments that already have a Fibre Channel infrastructure, that may become a more attractive option than going to iSCSI at all," says Wheeler. "So that's a significant development [in terms of] iSCSI at [the] 10GbE rate."

-- Trina MacDonald

This was first published in July 2007

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