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100G ethernet stays pricey as speed needs soar

Stephen Lawson | Feb. 24, 2011
Virtualization, video and massive amounts of data are all driving enterprises and service providers toward 100-Gigabit Ethernet, but the cost of the fledgling technology remains prohibitively high and few products have been installed, industry observers said at the Ethernet Technology Summit.

FRAMINGHAM, 24 FEBRUARY 2011 - Virtualization, video and massive amounts of data are all driving enterprises and service providers toward 100-Gigabit Ethernet, but the cost of the fledgling technology remains prohibitively high and few products have been installed, industry observers said at the Ethernet Technology Summit.

The 100GE standard was ratified by the IEEE last year, but the technology is just beginning to creep into use. Analyst Michael Howard of Infonetics Research estimates that only a few hundred ports of 100GE have been delivered and most of those are being used by service providers in tests or trials.

However, with the growing amounts of data going in and out of servers in big data centers, some large enterprises also are running into a need for something faster than 10-Gigabit or 40-Gigabit Ethernet, Howard said at the Ethernet Technology Summit this week in Santa Clara, California. Virtualization allows servers to run at higher utilization rates, and blade server chassis pack more computing power into a rack. Connecting these systems to top-of-rack switches, and linking those to other switches at the end of a row, is starting to require multiple 10-gigabit links in some cases, he said.

The Mayo Clinic is already testing 100GE as a possible replacement for multiple 10-Gigabit Ethernet links in its data center, which are needed because its virtualized servers can drive so much traffic onto the clinic's LAN. One reason is that Mayo doctors frequently consult with other physicians around the world and need to share medical imaging files such as CAT scans and MRIs, said Gary Delp, a systems analyst at Mayo.

Aggregated 10-Gigabit ports are still an inefficient way to create fast links within the data center, and 100GE should be more efficient, Delp said. He expects vendors to come out with aggregation technology that pushes traffic more efficiently, and whether users adopt that or 100GE will be a matter of economics, he said.

Some other large enterprises are in similar situations, according to Howard. Using four to eight aggregated links also typically takes up more space and power and generates more heat than a single high-speed connection does, Howard said. One solution administrators are beginning to use is 40-Gigabit Ethernet, which is somewhat less expensive and more readily available today, but the traffic curve points to a need for 100GE, he said.

The 100GE equipment is pricey because the technology is so new, according to Howard. Early components are expensive as well as large, power-hungry and hot, and there are still several generations to go in downsizing these parts for more economical systems. It's a fundamental problem of networking today, as the cost of equipment falls by about 15 percent per year but traffic increases by 45 percent or more, Howard said.

 

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