Hard Times Call for 10 GbE

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Like dominoes, the cause-and-effect repercussions of the financial crisis are playing out in the data center, but this time the process is unfolding in reverse. Instead of dominoes falling over, they're standing up.


In typical recessions, poor cash flow results in a sustained retrenchment -- capital spending slows, upgrades are put on hold, and organizations steel themselves to get by with what they have. And in many areas, such as traditional server and storage hardware, that pattern is likely to hold.


But in the area of advanced networking, the trend is likely to run in reverse. The thinking goes like this: Virtualization will result in mass consolidation of server hardware, adding to the slowdown in that market. But with more virtual machines residing in fewer actual servers, the need for wideband networking, particularly 10 GbE ports, will increase.


The Linley Group expects to see a 12 percent gain in overall GbE/PHY (physical layer) revenues for 2008, with LAN aggregation and virtualization emerging as critical drivers for the conversion to 10 GbE going forward. And although Broadcom has emerged as the clear leader in GbE components, 10 GbE essentially levels the playing field again, offering substantial opportunities for such players as Solarflare, Aquantia, Fujitsu and AMCC.


High-speed networking is also drawing in entirely new names. Witness Intel's recent purchase of NetEffect, a maker of 1 and 10 GbE adapters geared largely toward server and blade environments. The company also has a long history in Infiniband development, allowing Intel to tap into both enterprise and HPC installations.


Meanwhile, server vendors are eager to bring 10 GbE connectivity onto their platforms, lest they be seen as low-end solutions incapable of fulfilling current and future data demands. IBM, for instance, recently certified Chelsio's 10 GbE Unified Wire adapters for the System x Cluster 1350 and the new iDataPlex system. The adapters include the S310e-SR+ optical and S310e-CXA CX4 copper units, as well as the S320em-BCH dual-port mezzanine card for the BladeCenter H chassis.


On the switch level, the advent of Web services and other high-speed developments are leading to high-bandwidth, low-latency devices for individual server racks. Woven Systems recently augmented its lineup with the 24-port TRX 200, said to offer 10 GbE wire speed on each port with Infiniband-like latency as low as 1.6 microseconds. The device joins the company's 48-port TRX-100 and the 144-port core Fabric Switch.


It's almost certain that the economy will hamper 10 GbE sales from what they would be in normal conditions. But with enterprises on the hook to cut costs in the server farm, more sophisticated networking will be the only way to ensure that those cuts don't start to hamper productivity.