Conventional wisdom holds that the next major jump in networking capabilities across the enterprise is going to be focused on the shift from 1 to 10 Gigabit Ethernet. But as companies such as Intel gear up to introduce next-generation Romley and Sandy Bridge processor technologies, an argument is increasingly being made that the next great networking leap should be to 40 Gigabit Ethernet.
According to Mellanox Technologies CEO Eyal Waldman, it's already apparent that next-generation Intel Xeon classes of processors, codenamed "Romley" and "Sandy Bridge," which are designed for the PCI Express 3.0 bus that provides 60 Gigabits per second of throughput, are going to require 40 Gb Ethernet and 56 gigabit-per-second InfiniBand interconnects for the networking and storage systems attached to next-generation x86 servers and workstations.
In recognition of that inevitability, Mellanox today unveiled the SwitchX SX1024, a top-of-rack switch system that features 48 10 GbE server ports and 12, 40 GbE ports for non-blocking connectivity to 40 GbE aggregation switches. The company also announced today the ConnectX-3, a single-port 10 GbE network integration (NIC) card.
Waldman says that while pricing for slower-speed technologies such as 10Gb Ethernet has substantially declined in recent months, by the time Romley and Sandy Bridge class processors start showing up in servers and workstations, the price for 40 Gb Ethernet and 56 Gb InfiniBand will have dropped considerably. That doesn't necessarily mean that 10 Gb Ethernet is about to become an orphan technology, but it does mean that the appreciable lifespan for 10 Gb Ethernet may not be nearly as long as it was for 1 Gb Ethernet.
Of course, there are some who argue that the rise of in-memory technologies may reduce the need for so much networking and storage bandwidth. But Waldman says that history shows that anytime there is an expansion in processing speeds in one area, it brings pressure to bear on all the other elements of the system to keep pace.
While most of these trends won't fully play out until 2013, Waldman says it's clear that, for the first time, advances in processing, storage and networking are moving in lock step with one another. The reason for that has more to do with serendipity than anything resembling a master plan, but IT organizations may want to start making some assumptions now about the level of processing power and I/O bandwidth that will be in place to drive the next-generation of enterprise applications.