Feature

Timetable for 10 Gigabit Ethernet

One research institute has already moved to 10GbE. Bruce Allen, director of the Hannover, Germany-based Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, chose a Woven Systems Inc. switch as part of their early 2008 systems upgrade. "I think 10Gb is now a proven technology," he says. And being an early adopter is standard for Max Planck. "We're a research institute," he says. "The one guaranteed way to fail is to wait. The wrong decision is waiting." The institute stores and analyzes data, with approximately 1.5 petabyte (PB) currently managed. Allen says storage is secondary for them, with compute cycles the primary goal. "I wanted wirespeed nonblocking to all nodes, and that meant Ethernet," he says.

Woven is one of the few vendors offering 10Gb switches, along with others including, Cisco Systems Inc., Force10 Networks Inc., Foundry Networks Inc. (now part of Brocade) and Mellanox Technologies Inc. Joseph Ammirato, vice president of marketing at Woven, thinks 10GbE will be more affordable by 2010. And, for more widespread adoption, "we need 10GbE as a default feature on server motherboards," he says. "Users still have to buy it as a separate add-on." He targets mid-2010 for 10Gb to be built in.

Ammirato names several customer requirements he thinks will drive 10Gb adoption: consolidation, server virtualization and what he calls desktop virtualization -- a need for organizations to better control mission-critical applications, running them from the data center

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and not user desktops.

Mellanox is trying to move into the 10GbE market from its base of InfiniBand products. T.A. Ramanujam, Mellanox's senior product marketing manager, says that in the past few years, Ethernet has come into the spotlight as a consolidation or unifying data center fabric. "To accomplish that," he says, "they've taken features from technologies like Fibre Channel and InfiniBand and added that to [a] new Ethernet specification, what's going to be called data center Ethernet or converged enhanced Ethernet."


A sampler of 10GBASE-T NICs

Early on, networking vendors were challenged by issues such as power consumption and overheating with their designs for copper-based interface cards for 10Gig Ethernet. Many of these issues have been resolved. Today, there are a number of vendors offering 10Gig Ethernet network interface cards (NICs) that use the 10GBASE-T that supports twisted-pair cables and RJ-45 jacks, including the following:

Manufacturer

Product

Chelsio Communications Inc.

S310E-BT Storage Accelerator

Intel Corp.

Intel 10 Gigabit AT Server Adapter

Mellanox Technologies Inc.

ConnectX EN MNTH18-XTC

SMC Networks Inc.

SMC10GPCIe-10BT TigerCard

Tehuti Networks Ltd.

TN7588-S and TN7588-D (dual port)


Ramanujam says per-port prices are approximately $300 to $400 for a 10GbE switch, and predicts that the market will start adopting 10GbE when its price per-port cost drops closer to Gigabit Ethernet's cost. "It's not very far-fetched," he says, estimating that the second half of 2010 will bring 10GbE on the motherboard along with more affordable switches. "By then, the price of 10gig switches will be in the region of $100, $150 per port."

It also remains to be seen how FCoE, a potential 10Gb competitor, will affect 10GbE's adoption and pricing. Allen at the Max Planck Institute thinks 10Gb will triumph. "I tend to think that Fibre Channel is one of those technologies that doesn't really have a good place in the future," he says. "You're better off sticking to commodity stuff." But storage users managing the deeply ingrained FC infrastructures of many businesses might disagree.

In the meantime, the Ethernet Alliance's Booth says the group is busy putting on interoperability demonstrations and educating possible 10GbE users on what they'll need to do to be ready for the transition -- namely, consider their current server utilization and decide on cabling. "Looking at a server running 1gig, do they want to upgrade that server by putting in a new NIC and upgrade it to run 10gig?" says Booth. "Or do they wish to put a better server in there and put this 10gig card in it?"

Users must also think about whether they can reuse their current optical data center cable, or whether they'll need or want to replace copper cabling. Allen says the one mistake the Max Planck Institute made in setting up 10GbE was its cabling choice. They're using copper 10Gb cables, which Allen calls "bulky and inflexible." For $50 more apiece, he says, they could have had optical cables.

10Gb also signals a shift in thinking toward consolidation and centralization. "Unlike previous Ethernet technologies, where primarily volume went to desktop," says Booth, "now most of the volume of 10gig is in the data center, into the core of network."

BIO: Christine Cignoli is the Associate Site Editor for SearchStorage.com and SearchStorage.co.UK.

This was first published in February 2009

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