Just as virtualization and the cloud are placing greater reliance on network throughput to boost data center productivity, new generations of high-speed devices are upping bandwidth to phenomenal levels.
This race to the fast lane is taking place as the various network protocols vie for space on the converged network fabric, the all-encompassing platform intended to accommodate data, storage and communications within a single architecture. And it comes at a particularly convenient time as enterprises find themselves having to shuttle not just data and applications from centralized resources to end points, but applications and desktop images as well.
Since the foundation for the converged fabric undoubtedly will be the Ethernet, it's no surprise that high-bandwidth versions of the protocol are showing up -- both for carrier network applications and the enterprise. At Interop Tokyo this week, NTT Communications, Infinera Japan and Ixia Communications mounted a 100 Gbps network called ShowNet that will be used for Internet access for a wide variety of devices. The network consists of DWDM systems from Infinera, assorted telecom and data infrastructure technology from NTT, and Ixia's high-speed networking test systems -- all based on the 100Gbase-LR4 specification.
At the same time, new physical layer (PHY) technology capable of 40/100 Gbps Ethernet service is starting to move into the channel. California's MoSys and Sarance, for instance, have teamed up on a PHY that incorporates an advanced Media Access Controller (MAC). The goal is to offer an integrated device that should speed up development time for finished Ethernet systems. The device uses both the XLAUI and CAUI interfaces and has been shown to move more than 1 trillion error-free Ethernet frames over the 100 Gbps format.
A strong Ethernet backbone undoubtedly will become standard at large enterprises, considering the rapid deployment of other high-speed formats, namely 10 GbE and up-and-coming InfiniBand solutions. The InfiniBand Trade Association recently announced the next step in its development roadmap -- a 4x EDR (Eight Data Rate) version projected to hit 104 Gbps within the next year. Ultimately, the group is eyeing a 12x EDR version said to top out at about 300 Gbps. And that's not even taking into considering the fact that the group has an FDR (Fourteen Data Rate) version on hand.
All of this may make the forthcoming 16 Gbps Fibre Channel format seem downright quaint. But you have to remember that FC offers a number of features, primarily lossless performance and advanced storage management capabilities, that make up for the relatively low bandwidth. And after all, with Fibre Channel most likely to contribute to the network fabric as a layer on the Ethernet protocol via FCoE, a 16 G format will undoubtedly force the need for a wideband backbone at some point.
Clearly, though, this is an issue primarily for large enterprises and the rising cadre of cloud providers that will need lightning-fast service capability to remain competitive. Network optimization tools, I/O virtualization and other tricks to boost throughput are effective, but will only get you so far on today's infrastructure. At some point, you have to add more lanes to the highway. It's the only way to keep the ever-increasing amount of traffic on the move.