10 Gigabit Ethernet: The Momentum Continues

I’ve spent a fair number of words in the past on the benefits of 10 Gigabit and what it means for the server market.  Through the addition of FCoE and DataCenter Ethernet as well as advanced virtualization features 10 Gigabit seems likely to have its big day in the sun here pretty soon.  But the question is still “When”?

While the proof is ultimately in the raw volumes of 10 Gigabit that ship, and the number of IT users who utilize the higher performance, there are some key reasons to think that 10 Gigabit momentum is accelerating beyond just the numbers* below:

10 Gigabit Forecast.JPG

Over the past year, there has been a raft of new 10 Gigabit switch announcements** from Cisco (Nexus 5k/7k), Arista (7100, 7124, and 7148), BNT (G8100), Extreme Networks (Summit X650) Juniper (EX8200), Voltaire (8500) and many others that have increased the choice, and the density of 10 Gigabit switches in the marketplace.   There are now many 48+ port 10 Gigabit switches available and even a few 200+ port models.  Also, the improved density and feature set of certain switches (such as Voltaire’s 280+ port 8500 series switch) provide a path for 10 Gigabit’s ascent into the clustering market by improving port density and latency for clustering applications.

Broad acceptance of SFP+ has also helped to drive a rapid improvement in price, density, and power.  SFP+ provides a smaller form factor standard for optics, as well as a standard connection methodology to connect directly from switch to NIC via a Twin-Ax copper (read: ‘low cost’) cabling solution inside the rack (up to 10m).  The widespread adoption of SFP+ form factors has dramatically reduced the entry level price points for switches, and through the ‘direct attach’ copper connection capability it has also reduced the overall cost for initial and ongoing deployments of 10 Gigabit by providing a lower cost bridge to optical or full 10GBase-T support.

There are also a few data points to suggest that the Server side cost for 10 Gigabit will also be dropping fast going forward.  As power for 10GBase-T continues to drop quickly, more and more Server vendors are looking at the options available to embedded 10 Gigabit directly into their systems.  This will not likely be a 2009 story, but it is approaching quickly.  Additionally, the acceptance of SFP+ form factors for optics/direct attach cabling has provided a path that some Server vendors may use to design 10 Gigabit down on motherboards without adding the extra cost and power of a 10GBase-T solution.  This looks like a likely near term given that the solution power and design are robust and ready for motherboard based designs today.

Finally, the continued cost reduction provides an attractive long term value of standards based 10 Gigabit Ethernet.  There is clear indication downward pressure on 10GbE prices already present today.  We will see 10 Gigabit pricing follow a similar price curve as we saw with Single Gigabit.  This is evidenced in the recent pricing announcement where Intel reduced the cost of single port 10GBASE-T adapter 40% from $999 to $599.  The competitive economics of standards based hardware will continue to drive down 10 Gigabit prices even further and we will see 10GBASE-T pricing below the $500 / port price in the near future. Once it gets on the motherboard, prices will drop even further.

Overall, the power, density, latency, and cost of 10 Gigabit are all improving at a rapid rate.  Form factor flexibility coupled with a wide array of switch and NIC vendors in the marketplace will provide choice and low cost for IT departments while virtualization and convergence in the datacenter and elsewhere continue to provide demands for ever greater I/O bandwidth and performance.


Ben Hacker

* Del’Oro Forecasts as of Q1 ‘09