Built-In 10 Gigabit Beckons to Enterprise Sites

Opinion: New servers, adapters and switches from HP, S2io and others bring higher bandwidth within reach for companies that had been priced out.

S2ios announcement this week that HP would be using its 10 Gigabit Ethernet adapters in two of its enterprise server lines was the proverbial "other shoe."

10 Gig has been around for a couple of years, but because the equipment required to make it work was very expensive, it use was relegated to the largest of enterprises and to carriers. There, 10 Gig Ethernet was used in campus and wide area environments, where the bandwidth requirements left few other options.

But bandwidth needs have grown everywhere. Smaller enterprises that could have used 10 Gig were put off by the half-million-dollar cost of implementing each massive switch. So smaller operations found themselves trunking multiple 1 Gig connections. This works well enough for communications between switches, but its hard on conduit space—always at a premium in todays buildings. The real problem with trunking, though, is with servers.

While its possible to add multiple network adapters to any individual server, there reaches a point at which it simply doesnt work very well. Because of contention for interrupts and memory access, installing four Gigabit Ethernet cards (for example) on a server doesnt give you 4 gigabits worth of throughput. So high-bandwidth applications needed a better solution, and on Monday, S2io and HP provided it.

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here to read about Sun Microsystems plans to build 10 Gigabit capabilities into servers.

HP will sell the new adapter card as an OEM product for its 9000 and Integrity lines of servers. The adapters are available now and should start showing up in HP sales material nearly any time. HP hasnt disclosed pricing. But the new PCI-X cards will provide nearly 8 gigabits per second of throughput in each slot, and because they offload network traffic processing from the main CPU, this throughput might actually be achievable.

Of course, a new adapter card is only part of the picture. If you still have to drop a cool half million to play in this game, its a non-starter for most companies. But at the same time that HP and S2io announced the new adapter card, HP also announced a new 10 Gig stackable, affordable, Model 6400cl ProCurve switch. This, coupled with a new line of 10 Gig stackable switches from Foundry Networks, announced last month, now make it feasible for an enterprise to consider a 10 Gig data center that is actually affordable.

Even better, the enterprise 10 Gig world grows in other areas. Alcatel announced a series of enterprise switches this week with 10 Gigabit Ethernet uplinks. Last week Cisco announced 10 Gig uplinks for 20 products. While none of these products, taken individually, would have a huge effect, their near-simultaneous arrival is very important. In the space of less than a month, real, affordable, 10 Gigabit Ethernet solutions are within the reach of most medium to large enterprises. While theres currently only one company with major server contracts (S2io has landed deals with HP and Sun) theres no question that other adapter makers, including Intel and Broadcom, arent far behind.

When this happens, the resulting price drops will bring 10 Gig to even more enterprises. You can assume that it will be available to your business sooner rather than later. But theres always the question of what this means. Just as happened with the spread of Gigabit Ethernet, which spread mainly as a series of capabilities that could be capitalized upon as more and more computers and more and more switches began supporting Gig interfaces, so to will 10 Gig spread slowly at first. But it will spread, and in the meantime, if you really need the bandwidth, you can have it now.

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Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...