Gigabits Now and in the Future

Storage companies are looking at next-generation throughput in the 10 Gbps range, whether in Fibre Channel or Ethernet. When will it reach your game machine?

As throughput rates swoop up a steepening curve, some users are still having a hard time buying the notion that gigabit speeds are on the cusp of becoming a consumer standard. Get used to it: Its already time to start counting down to 10-gigabit-per-second performance on entry-level computers.

One company already banking on this scenario is startup S2io Technologies, which is readying a line of 10-Gbps Ethernet (10GbE) storage products. The company announced its entry into the market at this weeks Data Center Futures conference in Chicago. S2io said it expects to release its first product later this summer. (See the companys press release for more information.)

Most of the storage industrys expectations for next-generation speed has focused on either 4-Gbps or recently 10-Gbps flavors of Fibre Channel; some customers are seeking cost savings and compatibility from the slower interface, and others are eyeballing a great leap forward with the 10-Gbps standard. (See Fibre Channels Future Speed for more information.)

"Everyone wants more speed; the question is at what cost," Kimball Brown, S2io vice president of marketing, told me. The company, which exited its self-described "stealth mode" yesterday, will ride the Ethernet-over-IP and iSCSI wave and offer a variety of 10GbE storage solutions into the enterprise. "The fibre channel guys are going from 2 to 4 Gbps; were going from 1 to 10 Gbps."

More performance is better, especially when it comes to bandwidth. And a factor of 10 has an almost magic quality.

"An incremental gain [in performance] may not be worth the effort, but a gain of an order of magnitude can always be justified," said Michael Bennett, senior network engineer at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He used 10GbE to interconnect two large clusters of servers.

Still, in todays market, even research centers could question the performance to be gained for a very high price tag. Bennett was pleased to see that the initial price-per-port for 10GbE was falling. "The effort may be justifiable. But then you do have to look at the cost."

Of course, the thought of 10GbE speed on the desktop is almost a joke, considering todays costs. It will take years to move 10GbE down the market to reach your workstation or notebook (as well as several generations to work on expansion bus technology).

But until recently, the same argument applied to Gigabit Ethernet. Its now mainstream—perhaps not consumer-level, but very close. Apple Computer includes Gigabit Ethernet on both desktop and notebooks. Meanwhile, Intel now supports the protocol in its recently introduced Springdale chipset. The company is testing the chipset with its consumer processors. (See Intel Strives for Balance With Springdale Chipset for more information.)

Based on history, the countdown for consumer 10GbE should start now. Gigabit Ethernet was approved in 1998, and this year, it may arrive on $600 PC. This logic tells me that game machines in 2008 will have a 10GbE connector. Why do I have so much trouble believing it?

David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.