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10 Gig Ethernet: Speed Demon

Outlook: The fastest Ethernet ever delivers on throughput, but high initial prices will likely slow deployments in the near term.

December 23, 2002 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - In engineering circles, it's called 802.ae, an Ethernet technology that promises blazing fast bandwidth that's capable of pumping the equivalent of 200 full-length digital movies down a strand of fiber in one second.
But even though the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. approved the final 10 Gigabit Ethernet standard last June, the price of entry -- at an average of $50,000 per port -- has kept most organizations on the sidelines.
Early adopters include government and university research institutions, which use the networks in their grid-computing initiatives. Eventually, 10 Gigabit Ethernet may also find a home in the enterprise data center, especially for mirroring and replicating data, says Mark Fabbi, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.
At some point, 10 Gigabit Ethernet could replace Gigabit Ethernet in server clusters or as a low-latency, high-speed backplane for blade servers, where it may eventually present an alternative to InfiniBand. And 10 Gigabit Ethernet's ability to travel long distances -- up to 24 miles -- over single-mode fiber makes it a good candidate for high-bandwidth remote data center replication.
The specification also shares a common frame format with Synchronous Optical Network, which could make connections with telecommunications companies' wide-area network services easier.
Finally, 10 Gigabit Ethernet may find its way into storage-area networks as an alternative to Fibre Channel, which currently tops out at 2G bit/sec. The recently introduced iSCSI protocol allows block writes to networked storage arrays over IP networks running Gigabit Ethernet. Ten Gigabit Ethernet could provide a faster medium for some data center applications.
With telecom companies struggling to survive and IT budgets tight, the adoption curve may be slow, analysts say. Many of the existing 10 Gigabit Ethernet rollouts that serve as vendor references took root two years ago, when times were better and IT budgets got easier approval.
"This technology emerged at the same time there was a tremendous downturn in the economy, and IT budgets have since shrunk," says Greg Williamson, associate director of IT services at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. Williamson is thankful that his campuswide 10 Gigabit Ethernet project was approved more than a year before its launch last May.
"Had it been six months later, we wouldn't have obtained the funding," says Williamson.
As an educational institution, Arkansas State also received a hefty discount. Business users of Cisco Systems Inc.'s 10 Gigabit Ethernet modules face prices starting at $65,000.
"It's very pricey right now," says Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston. But analysts expect that price to drop by 30% to 50% in the next



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