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It's Time To Get Your 10 Gig On

Trends in networking never develop quickly. We've been talking about 10-Gbps Ethernet for years now, mostly as an aggregation technology. But you know it'll eventually make its way to servers as the pervasive networking connection. The question is, when do you make it part of your regular acquisition strategy?

If you're used to deploying a three-tier (top of rack, end of row, core) data center architecture, the lack of affordable uplink technologies makes early deployment of 10-Gbps Ethernet nothing but a very expensive cable-reduction strategy. If you wait until 100-Gbps Ethernet is cheap and 10-Gbps ports are common on server motherboards, you've probably stretched the life your quad-port 1- Gbps interfaces a bit too long.

For many organizations, recent product announcements should herald that it's time to switch. Let's start with IBM's RackSwitch G8316, a 40-Gbps, 16-port aggregation switch in a 1U form factor. Combine it with the G8264 at the access layer, IBM says--it packs up to 64 1/10-Gbps SFP+ ports. If density is your goal, that seems like a pretty good combo.

If you're a Cisco Nexus customer, the new line cards the vendor released last month offer 48 1/10-Gbps SFP+ ports, letting Cisco cram up to 768 ports into a loaded Nexus 7018 chassis. Your wiring may not be as neat as with the IBM combo, but you'll have a very flat data center network. Cisco says if you do load up the 7018, it'll come in with a list price of less than $1,200 per port. So the economics on the Nexus products are starting to look pretty good.

If you're looking for a product from a newer kid on the block, Arista has had its 7050 out since March. It, too, is a fixed-configuration switch with 48 1/10-Gbps ports and four 40-Gbps uplinks, all for a cool $29,995. That puts the street price close to $500 per port. Arista also offers its super-low-latency 7124 cut-through switch, 24 ports for $12,995.

For outside the data center, Brocade has announced new campus edge and aggregation switches, which offer gigabit-to-the-desktop networking along with a range of configurations and PoE options, with both stackable and modular options. Brocade's ICX 6610 stackables and FSX800 and 1600 chassis systems are designed to provide a lot of bandwidth at low prices. Prices for the stackables run between $5,595 for the 24-port version and $10,495 for the 48-port PoE model. They all support 40-Gbps stacking and uplink ports.

Other vendors are releasing or have released their own upgraded data center and campus networking products, which offer both 10- and 40-Gbps Ethernet ports at much higher density and which drop the price per port substantially. NIC prices are also coming way down. Dual-port SFP+ PCI cards now fetch a street price of less than $500, making them appropriate for most server applications. Dual-port converged network adapters are now commonly available for $1,000 (or more, depending on how much processing you want done on the card versus the CPU). My point is that if you haven't looked at prices and configurations recently, it's time for a new look.

With the exception of Cisco, these products represent advances in merchant silicon (Cisco still designs its own silicon), which have improved density and substantially lowered costs. If you've been waiting to get your 10 Gig on, now's the time.

Art Wittmann is director of InformationWeek Reports, a portfolio of decision-support tools and analyst reports. You can write to him at [email protected].

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