With the ratification of the 10 Gigabit Ethernet standard (802.3ae) by the IEEE this summer, vendors of IP SANs have a powerful new tool to expand their market. But probably not right away. Issues of cost and equipment availability are likely to limit the use of "10GbE" as it called for the immediate future. Still, the advantages of the new technology are very real and some enterprises will undoubtedly be willing to pay the price to reap the benefits early.
The most obvious benefit is speed. At 10 Gb, 10GbE is much faster than even the latest version of Fibre Channel. Among other things, this makes it ideal for connecting Fibre Channel island SANs at remote geographic locations, because the speed of the SANs will not be bottlenecked by the connection between them. Another benefit, according to the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance, is interoperability of equipment. The designers of 10GbE learned from the Fibre Channel experience and produced a tight specification, (compared to Fibre Channel, anyway). That should minimize problems mixing equipment from different vendors. At trade shows this summer, 23 vendors combined their products in a single network to demonstrate the interoperability of everything from WANs to test equipment.
The first major market for 10GbE is probably going to MANs where the combination of speed and distance make the technology especially attractive. According to the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance, existing gigabit Ethernet MAN backbones using single mode fiber can be upgraded to 10GbE by installing the appropriate interfaces and optical transceivers. Campus installations are also likely to be early adopters of 10GbE because the basic installation can support distances up to 40 KM.
In spite of 10GbE's advantages, it still has a number of disadvantages as well. Probably the most serious one is price. For now 10GbE costs as much as $55,000 a port (on the Force10 Networks E-Series switch/router), which eliminates all but the most highly motivated purchasers. However 10GbE's backers say the price will drop sharply over the next year or two, perhaps down to $1,000 per port or so.
Another barrier to immediate adoption is the scarcity of hardware designed to use 10GbE, especially in SANs. So far most of the product releases have been components such as Intel's transceivers or the MAC chip from Vitesse. A few products, such as the E-Series switch/router from Force10 Networks are already available and the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance is predicting that products will start to arrive by the end of this year. Others are saying sometime next year. Judging by the vendor's announcements, SANs will not be an early focus of 10GbE effort.
The 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance has a number of white papers including "10 Gigabit Ethernet Technology Overview White Paper" available on its Web site.
Rick Cook has been writing about mass storage since the days when the term meant an 80K floppy disk. The computers he learned on used ferrite cores and magnetic drums. For the last twenty years he has been a freelance writer specializing in storage and other computer issues.
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