Intel dubs 2009 'The Year of 10Gb Ethernet'
Coming soon to a motherboard near you
Intel's high-density computing honcho says that 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) is ready for prime time.
"Datacenters are transitioning to 10GbE technology to meet the explosive data requirements of today's networks," Jason Waxman, Intel's General Manager of High-Density Computing, recently told The Reg.
According to Waxman, the availability of new higher-density top-of-rack 10GbE switches - combined with lower-cost copper technology - are accelerating the 10GbE transition. "10GbE technology is available today in server adapters, but will quickly migrate to be the standard connection on the server motherboard," he said.
A recent report  from the networking and telecom market-watching Dell'Oro Group called 10GbE the one "bright spot" in an otherwise moribund Ethernet switch market. Other switch sales are dropping. 10GbE's are rising.
The driving force behind the rapid advance of 10GbE products is simple: price.
According to a release from BLADE Network Technology , original 10GbE switches cost as much as $20,000 per port - more than the price of a server. However, according to BLADE, 10GbE switches can now be found at $500 per port, with street prices even less.
And as 10GbE gains acceptance, production volume will increase, driving prices ever lower.
Intel's 10GbE SR fiber adapter prices, for example, have dropped by more than 70 per cent over the past three years, according to Waxman. The company has also introduced lower-cost 10GbE copper adapters, including SFP+ Direct Attach, 10GBase-T, and CX4.
10Gb Ethernet, a clearinghouse for 10GbE information, lists  11 different companies offering 10GbE top-of-rack switches. Of the products listed, four switches have per-port costs of $500 or less.
Considering that quality Gigabit Ethernet switches hover around $100 or more per port, 10GbE is beginning to look more affordable.
Jayshree Ullal, president and CEO of Arista Networks , pointed us to her company's Arista 7100 Series , touting it as "a compelling price/performance product at two to three times Gigabit Ethernet prices but with 10 times the performance."
Ullal agreed with Waxman's assessment of the rapid decline in 10GbE prices, saying that top-of-rack switches that cost $2,000 to $4,000 per port two years ago now range from $400 to $1,000 per port.
And guess whose company makes that $400-per-port model. Yup. Ullal's.
Moving to the motherboard
Intel's Waxman also said that he's starting to see 10GbE controllers placed directly on motherboards. As this trend continues over the next few years, he expects 10GbE to be standard equipment on many servers.
Bill Dicke, HP's interconnect strategy manager for blade systems, reminded us that that company's ProLiant BL495c G5 Server Blade , released last September, already includes a dual-port 10GbE LAN-on-motherboard (LOM ) controller. According to Dicke, the BL495c is the "First blade server in the industry, to my knowledge, to use 10GbE Flex-10 LOMs."
Considering that Virtual Connect Flex-10 is an HP technology, he's probably right. Flex-10 allows you to divide a single physical 10GbE connection into four virtual connections, each tunable to different bandwidths in 100Mb increments. You can find a video of HP's take on Flex-10 here .
Dan Tuchler, BLADE's VP of product management and strategy, say that another factor behind LON adoption is the stabilization of the PCIe Gen2 standard, which offers increased throughput.
BLADE's President and CEO Vikram Mehta says that the 10GbE ecosystem is ready for mainstream adoption with 10GbE on the server motherboard and affordable SFP+ direct-attach copper cables for the typically short-distance interconnects between server and top-of-rack switches.
Mehta's company's RackSwitch  family of top-of-rack switches are aimed squarely at server-virtualization installations.
Mark Hilton, HP ProCurve's director of technical product marketing, says that the the industry's move to server virtualization is fueling the adoption of 10GbE. According to Hilton, one virtual server can get by quite nicely with a one-gigabit connection, so 10GbE can represent 10 virtual machines through a single pipe.
Hilton agrees that 10GbE adoption is increasing, that prices are dropping, and that most of the major technical challenges have been overcome. "I don't see a lot of technical problems at this point," he said. He pointed to HP's ProCurve 6600 Switch Series , which was introduced  this January, as an example of his company's 10GbE top-of-rack offerings.
Hinton also believes that the power constraints that previously held 10GbE back are being overcome. Although fiber is a lower-power interconnect than copper, advances in less-expensive copper 10GBase-T technology continue. Hinton sees more power reductions in the future for 10GBase-T, saying "Once we get the power consumption below four watts, you'll start to see copper 10GbE take off," mostly in Cat6e implementations.
Thomas Scheibe, the director of product management for Cisco's Campus Switching Systems Technology Group, agrees with HP's Hinton that improving power consumption is also driving the move to 10GbE. "The expected arrival of smaller-size and lower-power 10GBase-T PHYs [physical-layer devices] and the upcoming EEE (Energy Efficient Ethernet ) standard will accelerate that integration," Scheibe said.
Today, 10GbE switch sales are rising, per-port costs are dropping, LOMs are beginning to appear on server motherboards, power requirements are being reduced, and major players are offering lines of affordable top-of-rack switches.
Intel's Jason Waxman may be right. It appears that 2009 may very well be the year that 10-gigabit Ethernet goes mainstream. ®