Sprinting Toward the 100G Data Center

Arthur Cole

It looks like the era of 100 G Ethernet switching may be upon us sooner than we thought. Coming soon to a channel near you is a new generation of core switching systems that is equally at home in large data centers as in carrier networks.

The question, though, is whether this high-bandwidth technology will find its way into common data center architectures as a way to handle increasingly dense virtual and cloud traffic, or will it become the purview strictly of those dealing with large database files, rich media content and other high-bandwidth functions.

Groundwork for the 100 G enterprise formally got under way this week with Broadcom's announcement of the BCM88600 network processor. The device, drawn from technology acquired from Dune Networks, scales from 1 GbE to 100 GbE, assuring a smooth upgrade path from today's networks, and can easily be configured to support switch fabrics in the 100 Tbps range. The device is already sampling to select customers, with channel shipments expected by the middle of next year.

Clearly, a fully configured solution would only go into the largest enterprises and service organizations, where it will no doubt go into core switching platforms supporting thousands of virtualized servers and related cloud applications. However, the fact that the device scales down to the 1 GbE level means enterprises would have no trouble establishing a common silicon platform from the core to the edge.

But are enterprises hellbent on delivering the kind of wide-band services that would benefit most from such a network? All signs indicate they are, particularly as they seek to accommodate new generations of workers, for whom Internet video and graphics are no big deal. For a look at what a 100 Gbps enterprise could do, head down to SC10 in New Orleans Nov. 15-18 where NASA will showcase both local and wide-area transfers using 40 and 100 Gbps technologies.

There's also every reason to believe that edge technologies will embrace 100 G sooner rather than later as well. Intel and its partners are close to the commercial release of systems using the Light Peak optical cabling system, with Apple close at their heels. Initial systems designed to replace UBS technology will likely start out at 10 Gbps, although it's not hard to imagine 100 Gbps applications before long. With that kind of bandwidth on the edge, the pressure will be on to ramp up core infrastructure as quickly as possible.

For some time now, enterprise technology has been driven by the mantra, "Build it and they will come." Once the new platforms are in place, people will figure out the best way to use them, and then quickly exceed their capabilities. The same ethos is in play with advanced networks save for one small detail: We need to build it because they are already here.

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