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More Throughput, Higher VM Densities Drive 10 GbE Adoption

Enterprises are leveraging 10 Gbps-capable servers with faster processors to bolster data centers that must support more servers, more virtual machines and cloud computing.

Server virtualization is driving 10 GbE adoption as the standard network I/O interface in enterprises, and research shows the uptick in 10 GbE-capable hardware sales will continue as network infrastructures are refreshed.

A recent report by Redwood City, Calif.-based Dell'Oro Group found shipments of 10-Gbps Ethernet controllers grew by double digits during the first quarter of 2012. The firm predicts this trend will continue during the next several quarters, says Dell'Oro analyst Sameh Boujelbene, as server manufacturers introduce new products based on Intel's Romley server platform.

"The two big drivers for 10 GbE adoption are virtualization and big data," says Boujelbene. If enterprises are to leverage the capabilities of more powerful servers, connectivity must also be improved to avoid bottlenecks.

Boujelbene says it makes sense for enterprises to upgrade their entire ecosystem if they're already investing in servers with more processing power and 10 GbE capability.

According to IDC, the worldwide Ethernet switch market reached $5.1 billion in the first quarter of 2012, representing strong growth of 7.4% year over year. Meanwhile, the worldwide router market increased a more modest 2.8% year over year in the same quarter.

Cindy Borovick, IDC's program VP for enterprise and data center networks, says the growth is driven by the network infrastructure needs of enterprise IT as it embraces cloud technologies. While Gigabit Ethernet is still supporting a variety of applications at the network edge, 10 GbE is driving incremental growth in data center and campus core deployments.

Borovick says the 10 GbE adoption is also affected by data center consolidation and the increased server density that comes from virtualization. The servers are more robust and are handling greater workloads, she says. "We've reached the point where the network has become the bottleneck."

Bob Laliberte, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group Server, says virtualization is increasing throughput requirements as the number of virtual machines per physical server jumps. "Enterprises are increasing virtual machine density and really driving up the throughput needs," he explains.

While server virtualization is a primary driver for adopting 10 GbE, Laliberte says the costs to upgrade from 1 GbE has decreased enough for enterprises to consider an end-to-end refresh, especially as they consolidate data centers and look at setting up private cloud computing environments. "If they are buying new servers, they are probably doing a refresh anyway," he says.

In addition, 10 GbE has become a standard feature on servers, adds Laliberte, so it makes sense to take advantage of the capability because more powerful processors allow for more virtual machine density.

A recent survey by Enterprise Strategy Group of 280 North American IT professionals found that both current requirements and future considerations were factors in adopting 10 GbE. The top five considerations were:

  • 43%: Server virtualization increases throughput requirements.
  • 42%: Current or anticipated data center traffic.
  • 41%: Costs have decreased to an acceptable level.
  • 36%: Data center consolidation is driving massive data center scale.
  • 35%: Current or future implementation of a private cloud in our data center.

Data center traffic is changing, adds IDC's Borovick. "There is an explosion in the use of Ethernet to handle storage traffic. When you move to 10 GbE, you can consolidate all traffic onto one network."

Meanwhile, adds Petr Jirovsky, a senior research analyst in IDC's Networking Trackers Group, 40 GbE uplinks are becoming more common. "By 2020, we'll be talking about 100 GbE in the core."

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