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IT Buyer’s Guide: 10 Gigabit Ethernet

IT Buyer’s Guide: 10 Gigabit Ethernet
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The need for 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) spans all markets and business types. In this Buyer's Guide, we explain what you should consider when evaluating the changeover from a 1 Gigabit Ethernet infrastructure to 10 GbE.

When the IEEE started planning on 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) in 1999, and even when the spec became a standard in 2002, it seems unlikely that members could have anticipated today’s connectivity environment. According to Intel, worldwide Internet traffic in 2011 reached 639,800 GB per minute. Between now and 2015, the company expects data loads to increase by 10X. The number of connected users will reach 3.1 billion and connected devices will mushroom to 15 billion.

Few businesses will find themselves immune from this load escalation. Today, practically every new data center is deploying with 10 Gigabit Ethernet in place. The real challenge falls to enterprises still lumbering along with 1 Gb infrastructure. What considerations need to be made when evaluating the changeover?

The need for 10 GbE spans all markets and business types. The question is which parts of the business will need it first.

“The greatest need for bandwidth has been driven in the data center,” says Steve Schultz, director of marketing in Intel’s LAN Access division.” In today’s enterprise, most applications don’t need 10 GbE, except maybe for content creation—animation, video, high-end graphics. Office applications aren’t yet demanding higher than Gigabit bandwidth. And the cost hasn’t come down to the point where it makes sense for the OEMs to upgrade to 10 Gb on client machines.”

Within the data center, cloud computing, big data analytics, and especially virtualization are clearly pushing 10 Gb adoption. Five or ten or twenty servers consolidated into one physical system will obviously stress that machine’s I/O capacity to its limits. In a sense, an insufficient Gigabit Ethernet connection doesn’t just bottleneck one system; it bottlenecks every VM and application within that system. Likewise, clustering benefits from 10 GbE. According to Intel’s Schultz, his group’s internal studies have revealed 1 Gb connectivity will limit a Hadoop-type cluster.

“Any time you’re dealing with latency-sensitive traffic, especially with larger loads, 10 GbE can help,” says Peter Newton, senior director of product management in the commercial business unit at Netgear. “Certainly, voice has some latency sensitivity, but when you start to do video conferencing, there are much higher bandwidth needs. It can’t be buffered very much. And then more applications are generating graphics and motion video. You’re seeing more IP cameras providing HD information. You aggregate enough of those and you’ll certainly need more than a 1 Gb pipe to support it.”

The Move to 10GbEThe Move to 10GbE

Port consolidation is another big motivator for changing over to 10 GbE. As many companies’ bandwidth needs have grown, they’ve added increasing numbers of Gigabit ports into their servers. It’s not uncommon to see four, six, or even eight 1 GbE ports in a server. Updating these to a single 10 GbE connection can yield several benefits. In the illustration above, taken from a presentation for an internal Intel study, a machine with ten 1 GbE ports was upgraded to a single adapter with two 10 GbE ports. In addition to doubling the total available bandwidth per server, the upgrade yielded a 45% reduction in power consumption per rack, an 80% reduction in cables and switch ports, and a 15% overall reduction in infrastructure costs. Simplicity pays. In fact, Intel determined that if LAN and SAN were unified onto the same fabric (leveraging iSCSI and/or Fibre Channel over Ethernet), ROI would increase into the 25% to 30% range.

William Van Winkle has been a full-time tech writer and author since 1998. He specializes in a wide range of coverage areas, including unified communications, virtualization, Cloud Computing, storage solutions and more. William lives in Hillsboro, Oregon with his wife and 2.4 kids, and—when not scrambling to meet article deadlines—he enjoys reading, travel, and writing fiction.

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