There's Gold in That Thar' Copper

Arthur Cole

Fiber optic cabling is more efficient, flexible and has more bandwidth than copper cabling. It's also more expensive, which is why, in light of the dismal prospects for IT budgets going forward, you'll probably have to rely on what's left of your copper infrastructure for a while longer.


But that doesn't mean you're stuck with last year's networking capability. There's a new push to put high-bandwidth capabilities onto copper through the 10Gbase-T standard.


The ideal fit, of course, is to match 10Gbase-T with 10 GbE, providing a flexible fabric that can handle everything from storage and application data to e-mail and voice communications, even in mixed copper/fiber environments.


Solarflare Communications took a big step in that direction last month at VMworld when it demoed a line-rate vNIC controller and 10Gbase-T physical layer (PHY) technology connecting an ESX server environment with iSCSI storage over 100-meter lengths. The demo featured systems that are already shipping as part of NIC and switching systems from SMC. In pitching the system, Solarflare surveyed VMworld attendees and found that 87 percent of respondents rely on either Cat 5, 5e or 6 cable as their primary physical medium.


Another 10Gbase-T combination will consist of technologies from ADC, Fluke Networks, Intel and Extreme Networks. The quartet recently mounted a demonstration at the BICSI fall conference in Las Vegas showing 10Gbase-T traffic running more than 100 meters on Cat 6a cable. The link had a four-connector channel in a six-around-one configuration to show that alien crosstalk was not an issue on copper.


The Cat 6a cable used in the demonstration is itself a recent development. Belkin International introduced it only this week specifically for data centers to consolidate servers and other resources around 10Gbase-T infrastructures. The company says the wire is TIA/EIA compliant in both channel and permanent link configurations and meets all of the crosstalk, return and insertion loss, propagation delay and delay skew for 10 Gbps transmission up to 100 meters. It's also backward compatible with Cat 5e and Cat 6 links.


Even without the tough economic times, it would still be a tall order to swap out large amounts of copper for fiber. The good news is that with advanced networking finding a comfortable home on copper, you don't have to.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 5, 2009 6:56 PM Jennifer Jennifer  says:

Fiber may be expensive in the inital purchase. But the final cost savings into installing a fiber optics networks considerably outweighs copper.

Can your data center afford to install a technology that is going to increase your operating costs now and in the long term? The truth is, those oversized twistedpair cables will wreak havoc with your utility bills. The increased outside diameter of 10 Gb/s-capable twistedpair copper cables means it will take even fewer cables to choke your pathways and disrupt airflow. Furthermore, 10G copper port density is expected to be limited to 4-8 ports per card due to the huge power requirements of

10-15 watts per port, as well as the limitations of heat dissipation and cross-talk issues. More power consumption per port means greater cooling and humidity control.

And keep this in mind: these 10G copper electronics are also expected to be more expensive per port than 10G optical electronics. That's more money out the door. Compare this to today's 10G optical switches, which

support up to 16 ports per line card with a maximum power dissipation of 4 watts per port, and emerging SFP+optical transceivers that will support up to 48 ports per line card with a maximum power dissipation of 1 watt

per port.



It's worth the time to read.

Mar 7, 2011 2:47 PM Scrap Gold Scrap Gold  says: in response to Jennifer

There are several cabling alternatives available over which 10 Gb/s can be accomplished. Infiniband is one option. The single biggest advantage of Infiniband is that it has far lower latency (around one microsecond) than TCP/IP and Ethernet based applications, as there is much less overhead in this transmission protocol. Infiniband is gaining popularity in cluster and grid computing environments not only for storage, but as a low latency, high performance LAN interconnect with power consumption at approximately 5 Watts per port on average.


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