The Road to 10 GbE

Arthur Cole

The Ethernet community has been on a tear lately, coming out with a range of new switches and adapters designed to simplify the migration from narrow to wide-band networks and broaden its use across all facets of the data center.


One of the primary goals of this new development is to allow enterprises to expand Ethernet technology from low Gb, or even Mb, operation up to 10 GbE and beyond with as little disruption to legacy network equipment and infrastructure as possible. As more and more of the data center comes to rely on the Ethernet, the thinking goes, opportunities for larger commitments will evolve naturally.


For most small businesses, one of the major stumbling blocks to advanced data communications has been the lack of affordable fiber optics. But that might not be much of a problem anymore now that new copper-friendly 10G adapters are on the move. Intel recently released the AT Server Adapter that offers 1G and 10G Ethernet aboard CAT 6a cables over distances exceeding 300 feet. The unit also contains the company's virtual machine device queues technology that sorts data coming from VMs. Look for it on Dell's upcoming PowerConnect Ethernet switch.


For firms that are looking to upgrade to 10 GbE gradually, Broadcom has introduced a quad-speed 10GBASE-T physical layer (PHY) transceiver with auto-negotiate features that can process signals ranging from 10 Mb to 10 Gb. The BCM8481 device is fabricated on a 65 nm CMOS process and can operate up to 100 meters on CAT 6a or CAT 7 cable. The device supports the 4-lane 3.125 Gb XAUI interface, as well as a pass-through XAUI interface for fiber optic connectivity.


HP BladeSystem c-Class users will soon have access to NetEffect's NE020BSC mezzanine adapter that can be upgraded in the field from quad-port 1G to dual-port 10G performance without any changes to adapter hardware. The unit uses a single software/firmware stack that supports networking, storage and clustering, even while consuming less than 6.5 watts.


Extreme Networks takes a slightly different approach to achieve the same goal with its "Versatile Interface Modules" (VIMS) that allows enterprises to combine its X450 1 GbE switch with the new X650 10 GbE switch within the same stack. The idea is to preserve legacy infrastructure while allowing for non-disruptive upgrade to the wider bandwidth. Both switches use the ExtremeXOS operating system for compatibility with company's core aggregation and edge switches.


Network upgrades are likely to become more frequent as virtualization and consolidation drive up the amount of data in the enterprise. Fortunately, increasing available bandwidth no longer means having to shut down operations.

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