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Network World - Gigabit Ethernet has been the dominant server network option of choice for the past decade, with more than 200 million 1Gbps server ports shipped since the early 2000s. But the introduction of Intel's new Romley server platform, together with rapid adoption of virtualization options and the emergence of technologies such as big data, are fueling migration to 10 Gigabit Ethernet.
This migration ultimately will spur an Ethernet switch refresh cycle and generate an estimated $50 billion in revenue for suppliers over the next five years, however the 10Gbps transition has been slow and is following a different path from that of 1Gbps.
This article describes the current status of the 10Gbps server migration and explores the factors impacting it. We then discuss our view on the catalysts as well as the timing for 10Gbps to become the mainstream server network choice.
ANALYSIS: What if Ethernet failed?
10Gbps server network ports have been shipping in material quantities for more than five years. Nevertheless, in mid-2012, we estimate that 10Gbps ports are integrated on less than 20% of servers while 1Gbps ports had reached a server penetration rate of well over 50% by that point in their ramp. Why has the migration to 10Gbps been so slow? We believe it's due to five factors:
• Price too high: Based on scenarios of typical data center deployments, connecting servers at 10Gbps Ethernet rather than 1Gbps provides a price advantage only when servers need more than five 1Gbps connections (Figure 1). However, there is a catch. Those scenarios assume 10Gbps Ethernet switches in the core. The use of 40Gbps and 100Gbps speeds -- which are not yet widely available -- may shift the point of price parity.
• 10G Base-T not yet ready: 10G Base-T technology, which allows 10Gbps Ethernet to run over twisted pair, cannot currently provide a low-enough level of power consumption and latency. For example, the current 10G Base-T power consumption approximates 2.0 Watt per port for a distance of 10 meter, and we believe it needs to be less than 1.0 Watt as it is with 1G Base-T. An alternative technology, the SFP+ DAC (Direct Attached Copper) has been invented to overcome the 10G Base-T issues, but it is very expensive for mass deployment.
• Continued interest in 1Gbps: The 1Gbps speed is still attractive for IT managers who want to isolate certain types of traffic, such as management, for better bandwidth control or security reasons. We have observed that many Romley-based server offerings by major vendors -- HP, IBM and Dell -- are integrating either a quad port 1Gbps connection or a mix of two ports 1Gbps and two ports 10Gbps, which is a testament to continued customer interest in 1Gbps.
• Choice of protocol: IT managers are still evaluating the 10Gbps Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) to converge their Storage Area Network (SAN) and Ethernet traffic, which might be delaying 10Gbps purchases.
• Choice of brand: While the 1Gbps shipments are dominated by two vendors, Broadcom and Intel, the 10Gbps market is attracting new entrants that have loyal customer bases, such as Fibre Channel server connectivity vendors Emulex and QLogic, and InfiniBand server connectivity vendor Mellanox. Hence, server vendors have to find some ways to accommodate various customers' brand requirements.