Electronic Design

10-Gbit Ethernet Is Ready, Along With Its Customers

The past year has seen great progress in the development of 10-Gbit Ethernet technology and its infrastructure, creating improvements that strongly support its wider adoption in growing segments of the computing market. Blade servers, networked

enterprise switches, video servers, and other applications can benefit now from 10-Gbit/s Ethernet speeds in storage, system backup, teleconferencing, and surveillance systems. Technical advances have enabled the higher density, reduced power, and improved cost-effectiveness needed to attract all of the major system developers.

Although its deployment has been limited so far, 10-Gbit/s Ethernet can make an enormous impact on both carrier and enterprise networks. The technology promises to provide higher throughput in the enterprise and extend the inherent cost benefits and high performance of Ethernet through the edge and metro networks into the wide-area network.

Improvements include development of high-speed macros that enable data transfer over longer copper cables or backplanes, along with the integration of as many as 12 ports on a single-chip switching device. This high integration reduces total system size and footprint to as little as 1/20th of the last generation.

This year, interfaces have been developed that comply with the new 10G-Base-CX-4 standard (IEEE 802.3ak), which adds a copper cable interface to the 10-Gbit/s Ethernet specifications. These CX-4 interfaces eliminate the need for expensive optical modules in the switch fabric, reducing costs from as high as $20,000 per switch to $1000. Power consumption is also down. A 12-port, 10-Gbit/s Ethernet switch system requiring less than 25 W (down from 200 W) can be built within a 1U height to support the 15-m distances incorporated in the IEEE 10G-Base-CX4 standard, extendable to 25 m.

Vendors and industry analysts peg the cost of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet systems at about seven times that of 1-Gbit/s products. This is a favorable cost/performance ratio, at the "tipping point" where customers can adopt the technology. Efforts are under way to reduce this figure to 2.5 times the cost of 1-Gbit/s products, notably the development of 10G-BaseT, also known as 10G Ethernet over twisted-pair copper. 10G-BaseT (IEEE 802.3an) is expected to be formalized by the end of 2005, providing a boost to the adoption rate following a pathway similar to 1G-BaseT volumes and Fast Ethernet.

The migration is starting in the server market, where Internet commerce drives the need for ultra-high-capacity data centers. As Gigabit Ethernet-attached servers become the preferred networking interconnect, the use of nonblocked, high-capacity, 10-Gbit/s Ethernet connectivity is imperative to avoid bottlenecks. Storage networks and cluster computing also benefit by combining multiple 1-Gbit/s Ethernet links with 10-Gbit/s Ethernet uplinks that support the need for high throughput.

Another factor is the Internet Small Computer System Interface (iSCSI) technology, the Internet Protocol-based networking standard for linking data-storage facilities. This standard needs low latency, making 10-Gbit/s Ethernet compelling and cost effective for the data center and for disk-drive virtualization.

Ten-Gbit/s Ethernet will become the backbone for 1-Gbit/s Ethernet capability all the way to the desktop and in local-area networks, metro Ethernet networks, and "last-mile" applications, where it becomes far more economical to hand off one 10-Gbit/s port than 10 1-Gbit/s ports.

Despite the technical progress and apparent rising demand, some skeptics think there's no urgent need for full 10-Gbit/s bandwidth right now. They appear to be driven by a belief that the technology is still too expensive, not cost efficient, and premature. However, the growth of high-speed Internet--up by 85% this year--is pushing the need for faster and faster connectivity. The latest data suggest that the number of 10G Ethernet ports deployed last year was very high, well above analysts' original estimates.

This superior standard costs less and is well known, proven, and widely used. Ethernet is easy to install and friendly to the Internet Protocol. Now, 1 Gbit/s on the desktop is promoting and accelerating the adoption of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet in the Enterprise switches and backbones.

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