10gbe-webThe time is right for upgrading the network backbone to 10 Gigabit Ethernet.

“Our network is incredibly fast and we have way more bandwidth than we can ever use,” said no one ever.

The truth is that when it comes to network capacity, there is no such thing as “enough.” CIOs and IT managers perpetually face demands for more speed, more capacity and more services. It’s a tough job in today’s data center where bandwidth-heavy technologies and applications place a heavy burden on aging network infrastructure.

On average, bandwidth consumption and data volumes in the data center double every 18 months, and the number of devices accessing the network doubles every 30 months. Few organizations have a network infrastructure built to support such explosive growth.

In one recent survey of more than 1,500 IT leaders in North America and Europe, 81 percent said that growing demand for network bandwidth is one of the most critical issues facing data centers, and 70 percent said that improving I/O performance in the data center was a “high” or “very high” priority.

Time is Right for 10GbE

This is why organizations are increasingly migrating to 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) data center infrastructures. More than 5 million 10GbE ports shipped in the fourth quarter of 2013, a 35.5 percent growth year over year. With a 10-fold improvement over the conventional 1GbE network backbone, 10GbE delivers the performance boost organizations need to accommodate current growth and prepare for anticipated demand.

The technology behind 10GbE isn’t new. The standard was ratified by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in 2002, but for years it was used almost exclusively to interconnect switches and routers. Server connections in data centers generally remained 1GbE for cost-performance reasons — it was more cost-effective to have multiple 1GbE connections than a single 10GbE port.

The cost-performance advantage is quickly disappearing. With demand driving volume, 10GbE has experienced significant price drops over the past two years. The cost per gigabit of bandwidth and the price per port have dropped enough to make the 10GbE upgrade a value proposition.

Another factor spurring the upswing is increasing support for 10GbE on motherboards from nearly every major server vendor. This means organizations no longer have to use pricey and power-hungry adapters to connect servers to the faster network backbone. Motherboards with onboard 10GbE controllers generate less heat with a better cost-performance ratio and a smaller footprint than those requiring a PCI-Express expansion card.

Enabling Virtualization, Consolidation

Analysts agree that the rapid growth of server virtualization is probably the single biggest factor behind the increased demand for 10GbE. While 1GbE is sufficient to support basic file serving, email and databases, it can’t meet the demands of the virtualized environment. Physical servers that previously hosted only one application are now running virtual operating systems and hosting multiple apps, fueling the need for increased I/O capacity at every server.

Storage network changes also make 10GbE more compelling. Storage is increasingly dependent on heavy algorithms for compression, de-duplication, thin provisioning and more. Additionally, the increasing use of flash-based solid-state drives is delivering massive performance improvements over rotating media. These changes all increase the need for a high-performance network infrastructure.

Additionally, 10GbE supports network convergence. Data centers typically use Fibre Channel for storage networks and Ethernet for IP networks. However, 10GbE can accommodate Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), a technology that encapsulates Fibre Channel frames over Ethernet networks. This allows organizations to consolidate the LAN and the storage network to conserve costs and resources. FCoE is not supported on 1GbE networks.

Supporting Wi-Fi

Organizations seeking to eliminate bandwidth bottlenecks within their Wi-Fi networks are also upgrading their networks with 10GbE. No longer viewed as a matter of convenience or a way to cut costs, reliable Wi-Fi is a strategic business necessity capable of creating competitive advantages and revenue streams. Wi-Fi supported by 10GbE helps organizations maintain the highest levels of productivity and customer service, support and quickly deploy new and innovative services, and maintain a more cost-efficient IT environment.

Organizations considering the new 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard should be particularly interested in 10GbE. With 802.11ac, 10GbE uplinks are needed to consistently deliver higher data transfer speeds and better data rates in high-density environments. A single 802.11ac access point will be capable of supporting much higher traffic volume and faster wireless connections, but only if 10GbE is in place to provide a faster connection between the access point and the network core.

It is safe to assume that demand for more network capacity, speed and services will only continue to grow. Upgrading to a 10GbE network backbone makes a lot of sense. It not only delivers key improvements in bandwidth, scalability, reliability and performance, but lays the groundwork for the next logical step in the evolution of the data center — the 40GbE network. The 40GbE standard was ratified four years ago and a number of routers, switches and network cards operate at this speed. Many enterprise organizations are already using 40GbE to aggregate 10GbE servers for high-performance computing, cloud and big-data applications.

“10 Gigabit Ethernet is finally on the verge of becoming the most popular data center switch port connection, after a long and sometimes rocky adoption curve,” said Seamus Crehan, president of Crehan Research, which specializes in analysis of the data center switch, server and storage networking markets. “And as 40GbE starts to ramp, we are still forecasting its adoption curve to look much better than that of 10GbE. This is already evidenced by the fact that recent data center switch introductions are really pushing the envelope on 40GbE port densities and economics.”