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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.

This isn't the fault of the Ethernet equipment industry or the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which developed the 100GE standard, Howard said. At these speeds, the problem comes down to physics. "It's just that we're up against limits," he said. An IEEE study group is now looking at writing specifications for some of the components that go into 100GE equipment, with an eye toward creating a vendor ecosystem around interoperable products.

Analyst Nathan Brookwood of Insight 64 doesn't think price will deter enterprises that have to use 100GE in their data centers.

"The people who can't solve the problem any other way will cough up the bucks to solve it this way," Brookwood said. Initially, those will probably be operators of massive computing clouds, such as Facebook and Google (GOOG), he said. A Facebook network engineer said a year ago that the company already needed 100GE. The new technology may also go into high-performance computing environments, according to Brookwood.

Despite these projections, 100GE remains far from being a mainstream technology. Even 10-Gigabit Ethernet is just starting to be used for server interfaces, albeit at a growing rate. The global market for 10-Gigabit Ethernet server interfaces was nearly $100 million in the fourth quarter, up 57 percent from a year earlier, research firm Dell'Oro Group reported this week. Some types of products for this technology are just beginning to reach the market. At the Ethernet event, Broadcom showed off its first server adapter based on the 10GBase-T specification, which uses standard Ethernet cabling and can reach 100 meters. It is expected to ship in commercial volumes in the second quarter.

Because of pricing and other issues, most observers don't expect 100GE to be widely used until 2013 in service providers and at least 2015 in data centers.

"100 Gigabits is a lot of bandwidth, and most environments haven't even figured out how to consume 10 gigabits," said Greg Scherer, vice president of server and storage strategy in Broadcom's High Speed Controller Business Unit.

Cost is one of the main barriers to adoption of 100-Gigabit Ethernet and is likely to remain so for the next few years, Howard said. Though per-port prices can vary based on specific deals, the cost of a 100GE port is still effectively six figures. Juniper Networks (JNPR) typically charges about ten times the cost of a 10-Gigabit Ethernet port, meaning 100GE can cost about US$150,000 per port, a company executive said on Tuesday. Brocade Communications announced a two-port module with the new technology for $194,995 last year. It can be ordered now and is expected to start shipping in the first half of this year, the company said Wednesday.


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