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Five Questions on 10-Gig Ethernet

Steve Modica, CTO, Small Tree Communications on Making the Switch

The technology has been available for a while, but 10 Gb/second networking over Ethernet is enjoying increased popularity this year, as price drops make the new, faster networks more cost-effective. StudioBytes has spoken with Small Tree’s Steve Modica about this subject before. This time, he answers just a few burning questions that might be on your mind if you’re considering a (faster) switch.
Q: Does 10Gb come in 10GbaseT (Cat. 6A) form yet?

A: Yes it does. Both cards and switches are available. You can use Cat. 6 cable for a 55-meter run or Cat. 6A cable for 100 meters. Be warned that Cat. 6A is about twice the price of Cat. 6 – as much as $1 per foot! Other available form factors are more appropriate for server runs. Dual-axial (DA) cables, also known as Twin Ax and SFP+ cables, can go 10 meters or less and allow one to use less expensive cards and switch ports. Most Gigabit switches with 10Gb uplinks support this form factor. Be warned that older DA cables may not work with all switches, and the new 4.0 cable spec is required in many cases.
Q: If I move to 10Gb will my applications go faster?

A: This depends. Gigabit Ethernet is very fast. In many cases, the Gigabit network is faster than the storage it’s talking to, and moving such a configuration to 10Gb would not improve performance. However, by ensuring that the network and the disk IO capabilities match, users can take full advantage of their systems.

Q: Can I run iSCSI or other storage protocols over my 10Gb links?

A: Yes. In fact, there are several choices here. AOE, iSCSI and FCoE are all different offerings that allow for storage over 10Gb Ethernet. All of them have benefits and drawbacks.

Q: How big are the price premiums for moving to 10Gb?

A: The costs for a 10Gb solution would be between $25,000 and $35,000, depending on if it were copper or optical. If most of the clients are less than 100 meters from the switch, then the copper solution would be more economical. The higher cost is due to the fact that each client will need a 10Gb network interface card (NIC).

Q: Are there good ways to mitigate those costs or spread them out over time?

A: For a small installation (up to six connections) this can be done without a switch, so the cost would be about $15K. This would include a six-port 10 Gb NIC installed in the server.

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