Enterprises have been in a quandary when it comes to upgrading their network for virtual and cloud operations. Having spent the past decade building out 1 gigabyte Ethernet (GbE) connectivity, the minimum for advanced dynamic architectures is now 10 GbE.
However, the problem isn't so much the network adapters, controllers and other devices that require another bandwidth upgrade -- although this is an expensive proposition in most cases. Rather, cabling is quite often the biggest impediment in that it is both expensive to acquire and difficult to install.
The Holy Grail, of course, is the all-fiber data center, which should cover you well past 10 GbE and into the 40/100 GbE realm. Barring that, most organizations can get by with legacy copper cabling by upgrading to 10/100/1000 Gbase-T physical layer (PHY) technology, although this has traditionally come at a significant power-loss penalty at the network port.
Lately, however, the news is getting better, at least for 10 Gbase-T. Initially, most PHYs generated about 25 watt (W) dissipation per port, which was enough to make it impractical for most operations. By the end of the last decade, that number had dropped to about 10W per port -- still high, but at least moving in the right direction. These days, 40 nanometer (nm) devices are capable of about 4W per port, and the transition to 28nm designs should cut that down to about 2.5W per port.
For example, PLX Technology's new TeraPHY TN8045 transceiver packs a quad-port PHY into a 25 square millimeter (mm) housing that enables up to 12 devices to sit atop a 40-port top-of-rack switch. The system does away with the standard XAUI interface in favor of a 10 Gbase-KR backplane connection with Energy Efficient Ethernet (EEE) technology and distance-measuring technology that keeps power dissipation under 2W per port for runs of about 10 meters. It also provides on-chip MACSec security and encryption and can be deployed with PLX's EMI mitigation hardware.
Data movement across the network is crucial, but so is the final link to the CPU. That's why Extreme Engineering Solutions has outfitted XPort3301 dual 10Gbase-T module with an x8 PCIe 2.0 XMC interface. The design allows data to be carried at line speed between the 10 GbE interface and the host processor, providing high-speed, end-to-end connectivity for storage, networking, traffic aggregation and other functions. The device can be outfitted with IEEE1588 or precision time protocol (PTP) and is available in conduction or air-cooled versions with built-in support for Linux, Windows and VxWorks environments.
Physical layer technologies that are both efficient and flexible are the primary reason many analysts are predicting a wave of 10 GbE deployments over the next few years. High-speed networking is a no-brainer as long as you leave out pesky details like cost and network/service disruption. Through 10 Gbase-T, you get higher throughput on legacy copper infrastructure, compatibility with 100 and 1000 Gbase-T infrastructure and latency in the single-digit microsecond range to rival SFP and SFP+ fiber networks.
In terms of the cost/benefit ratio, then, the new PHYs hitting the channel continues to improve the odds for 10 GbE at a steady clip.
Arthur Cole covers networking and the data center for IT Business Edge. He has served as editor of numerous publications covering everything from audio/video production and distribution, multimedia and the Internet to video gaming.