Overheard at Interop: A Few Questions about Ethernet

Greetings from Interop 2011, here in Las Vegas.  For those of you not in the know, Interop is billed as “the meeting place for the global business technology community,” and it’s one of the IT industry’s major tradeshows. Technology companies from all over the world are showcasing their latest products here this week, and networking companies are no exception. Bandwidth, Gigabit, 10 Gigabit, iSCSI, Fibre Channel over Ethernet, I/O virtualization – all of these networking terms (and many more) can be heard as one walks through the exhibitor expo. Why? Because networking is an essential element of many of the technology areas being highlighted here this week, and people want to understand how new networking technologies will benefit and affect them.

So with that in mind, I thought I’d share a handful of the questions we on the Intel Ethernet team are hearing at this show. And I’ll answer them for you, of course.

What Ethernet solutions are available from Intel?

The Intel® Ethernet product line offers have pretty much any adapter configuration you could want – Gigabit, 10 Gigabit, copper, fiber, one port, two ports, four ports, custom blade form factors, support for storage over Ethernet, enhancements for virtualization . . . the list goes on and on. We’ve been in the Ethernet business for 30 years, and we’re the volume leader for Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) and 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) adapters. We’ve shipped over 600 million Ethernet ports to date.  I have to think even Dr. Evil would be happy with that number.

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The latest and greatest: a display of our 10GbE adapters for rack and blade servers

Why do I need 10GbE?

Quite simply, deploying 10GbE helps simplify your network while reducing equipment needs and costs. A typical virtualized server contains up to 10 or 12 GbE ports and two storage network ports, often Fibre Channel. 10GbE allows you to consolidate the traffic of those dozen or more ports onto just two 10GbE ports. This consolidation means fewer network and storage adapters, less cabling, and fewer switch ports to connect that server to the network, and those reductions translate into lower equipment and power costs.

What role will Ethernet play in the cloud?

Ethernet is the backbone of any data center today, and that won’t change as IT departments deploy cloud-optimized infrastructures. In fact, Ethernet is actually extending its reach in the data center. Fibre Channel over Ethernet for storage network traffic and iWARP for low latency clustering traffic are two examples of Ethernet expanding to accommodate protocols that used to require specialized data center fabrics. The quality of service (QoS) enhancements delivered by the Data Center Bridging standards are largely responsible for these capabilities.

As I mentioned above, converging multiple traffic types onto 10GbE greatly simplifies network infrastructures. Those simpler infrastructures make it easier to connect servers and storage devices to the network, and the bandwidth and 10GbE will help ensure the performance needed to support new cloud usage models that require fast, flexible connectivity.

How quickly is 10GbE growing?

10GbE is growing at a healthy rate as more IT departments look to simplify server connectivity and increase bandwidth. According to the Dell’Oro Group’s Controller & Adapter Report for 4Q10, 10GbE port shipments rose to over 3,000,000 in 2010, a 250 percent increase over 2009.

All the major network adapter and switch vendors are showing 10GbE products here this week. One of those companies, Extreme Networks, announced two new switches on Tuesday as a part of their Open Fabric Data Center Architecture for Cloud-Scale Networks. The BlackDiamond* X8 switch platform supports up to 768 10GbE ports per chassis, and the Summit X670 switches are available in 64- and 48-port configurations. Sounds like a big vote of confidence in 10GbE, doesn’t it?

Isn’t 10GbE still pretty expensive?

It might seem that way, but 10GbE prices have fallen steadily over the past few years. You’ll have to check with other companies for their pricing info, but I can tell you that at less than $400 per port, Intel Ethernet 10 Gigabit server adapters are less expensive than our GbE adapters in terms of cost per Gigabit.

When will I see 10GbE shipping as a standard feature on my servers?

10GbE connections are available in many blade systems today, and integrated 10GbE LAN on motherboard (LOM) connections will be widespread in rack servers with the launch of Sandy Bridge servers in the second half of 2011. When 10GbE becomes the default connection on those volume servers, all of the benefits of 10GbE – simpler networks, higher performance, lower costs – will be free, included with the cost of the server. There’s a ton I could say in this answer, and I’ll go into more detail in a future post.

There you go - that’s a quick sample of some of the questions we’ve heard here at the show. Many of the questions we’ve heard this week, including those above, will make for some interesting blog posts. I’ll get to as many as I can in the coming weeks.