When and why you should roll out 10Gbit Ethernet

10 Gigabit Ethernet hardware will reach "commodity" price levels in about 3 years.

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Also guaranteed to benefit from 10 Gigabit Ethernet are applications such as video editing or scientific applications that consume or generate huge amounts of data in a short time.

Within data and storage networks, the adoption of iSCSI at any speed has mostly been limited to "tier 2" applications such as decision support, say some observers. The lack of mature and necessary features such as snapshots means "a big Fortune 1,000 bank is not going to trust an IP SAN with its core data," says Jeff Whitney, vice president of marketing at Intransa Inc., an IP SAN vendor in San Jose.

But others don't hold that view. For example, Brian Garrett, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, says iSCSI is in fact being deployed "for Tier 1 and Tier 2 apps in companies of all sizes." He also sees a future market in using 10 Gigabit Ethernet to connect many blade servers to shared storage.

 "Lots of blades sharing a fat connection to shared storage saves costs and reduces complexity," says Garrett.

Currently, the required NICs cost about $550 per port, says Jay Kramer, vice president of marketing at iStor Networks Inc., an iSCSI storage vendor in Irvine, Calif. That price is roughly equivalent to a 4Gbit/sec. host bus adapter needed to connect servers to storage using Fibre Channel. As prices fall, 10 Gigabit Ethernet will become a stronger option, says Garrett.

Market Forces

Garrett expects that for the next few years, Fibre Channel will have a price edge over 10 Gigabit Ethernet, but beginning about three years from now 10 Gigabit Ethernet hardware will reach "commodity" price levels, he says.

"With its price/performance advantage over 4Git/sec. Fibre Channel, 10Gbase-CX4 [which runs to more than 15 yards over coaxial cable] is the ideal candidate for uplink bandwidth aggregation" in SANs for next several years, says Kramer. At that point, he says, 10Gbase-T (which can run to more than 55 yards over lower-cost untwisted-pair copper) will be the protocol of choice.

As for pricing, a Hewlett-Packard ProCurve 6400cl-6XG 10Gbase-T six-port switch goes for about $3,400, which comes to about $567 per port. Pricing for a single port 4Gbit/sec. Fibre Channel HBA runs from $880 to $1,360 per port. So, 10Gbase-CX4 is currently about half the price of 4Gbit/sec. Fibre Channel as a server interconnect.

On the switch side, which is where it would be used for uplink bandwidth aggregation, a 10Gbase-CX4 HP switch retails for about $600 per port compared with about $780 per port for a 4Gbit/sec. Qlogic Fibre Channel switch. That's still a big difference, but not as large as the one on the server side (Note: Pricing information was found through simple Web searches, not vendor information).

Users might save more on administration than on hardware costs, since there's a far larger supply of network administrators trained in Ethernet than in Fibre Channel, observers say.

Another plus for iSCSI over Ethernet is that it is "an ideal environment" for virtualization, says Hart, because it allows administrators to move virtual servers among physical machines without reconfiguring the zoning and logical unit number (LUN) masking in the storage network.

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