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10Gig-E Copper Heats Up

Celebrations over the ratification of CX4, a standard for 10-Gbit/s Ethernet over copper lines, might be short lived, as it appears a newer standard due in 2006 will take its place.

The 10GBase-CX4 standard, shepherded by the 802.3ak task force within the IEEE, was created as a low-cost alternative to fiber-based 10-Gbit/s Ethernet in the data center. But in the two years since CX4 got started, new advances have promised to make fiber modules cheaper. And a second copper standard, 10GBase-T, appears likely to uproot CX4 eventually.

None of this changes the fact that CX4 is available now and remains cheaper than any alternative. As a result, product announcements continue to emerge. Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) included CX4 support in its latest raft of features for the Catalyst 6500. And Fujitsu Microelectronics America Inc. today added CX4 interfaces to its previously announced switch chip, which handles 12 ports of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet (see Cisco Beefs Up Catalyst, Fujitsu Enhances 10-GigE Switch Chip, and Fujitsu Packs in 10GigE ).

If CX4 is short lived, it will continue the streak of ill-fated copper standards for Ethernet. A similar scenario unfolded at the 1-Gbit/s generation, where a standard called 1000Base-CX was adopted, and it happened for 100-Mbit/s Ethernet as well. "You're going to see the same kind of evolution that's happened with Gigabit [Ethernet] over copper," says Steve Shalita, senior product marketing manager for Cisco's Gigabit Systems division.

The goal with CX4, which was ratified in January, was to let data centers avoid the cost of optics when dealing with short, rack-to-rack kinds of connections. "Removing the optics from 10-Gbit/s Ethernet is really a boon because you're bringing the cost down," says Asif Hazarika, product marketing manager at Fujitsu Microelectronics. In general, optical 10-Gbit/s Ethernet costs thousands of dollars per port, while copper interconnects could drop to a few hundred dollars.

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