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Evaluating 10GE PHY technologies (Part 1)

04 Sep 2013  | AQuantia

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While data centre administrators have a number of 10GE interfaces to choose from, including 10GBASE-CX4, SFP+ Fibre, SFP+ Direct Attach Copper (DAC), and 10GBASE-T, it is the current generation of 10GBASE-T technology that is driving mass adoption of 10GE. This multi-part article analyses the key differences between 10GBASE-T and other 10GE physical layer technologies, and the impact of 10GBASE-T's availability as a LAN-on-Motherboard (LOM) solution on the Romley generation of servers. According to Crehan Research, 10GBASE-T, the fastest growing 10GE connectivity solution in data centres, is expected to exceed all other 10GE alternatives by 2015 and reach more than 30 million ports in 2016.

As data centres enter the 2nd wave of adoption of 10GE, primary applications are shifting from high-performance computing and high frequency trading typical of the 1st generation in the past 4-5 years, to corporate data centres and Web 2.0 infrastructure. The expected mass adoption of 10GE for these applications will drive a set of requirements not unlike those associated with Gigabit Ethernet deployments. Ability to reach 100m, diverse equipment environment, and cost effectiveness are some of the key drivers, and these largely favour 10GBASE-T over the alternatives.

10GBASE-T can indeed be used for long-reach connectivity up to 100m as well as short-reach such as with patch cords. 10GBASE-T is ideally suited as the server-to-access switching cabling option for scalability and consistency within a zone distribution model, but it can also be used in the Top-of-Rack (ToR) model for modularity and efficient, low-cost cable management.

Another key benefit of 10GBASE-T is backward compatibility. Using the standard RJ45 connector, 10GBASE-T ports can connect to 1 Gigabit and even 100 Megabit interfaces, allowing end-users to transparently upgrade to 10GE from their Fast Ethernet/Gigabit Ethernet networks. The ability to auto-negotiate between 1G and 10G speeds allows users to determine which links will be high speed and low speed, and switch between the two without a hardware upgrade. In comparison, 10GBASE-SFP+ DAC products typically have limited or no backward compatibility with previous speeds.

An acquisition cost comparison analysis for data centre use of 10GBASE-T versus SFP+ DAC cabling shows that 10GBASE-T provides 50% cost reduction over SFP+ DAC. A corresponding cost reduction in equipment maintenance and on-going operations is expected.

With the advantages of 10GBASE-T in the areas of reach, compatibility with legacy networks, switch port utilisation and overall Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) over other 10GE media options, its rapid adoption in data centres is assured. Moving forward, 10GBASE-T is expected to expand into enterprise, mobile infrastructure, and data-intensive consumer applications.

As data centre network engineers and CIOs look to scale their data centres while keeping both cost and power in check, they are increasingly turning to server consolidation and virtualisation. The benefits of virtualisation are broadly understood: higher level of utilisation per server, reduced power and cooling needs, and centralized management. Today's servers are based on powerful new processors, such as the Romley platform Intel Xeon E5 processors. These processors support more virtual machines (VMs) per physical host than ever before, helping IT realise greater consolidation ratios. Server consolidation and virtualisation create an I/O bottleneck as the server's network bandwidth requirements exceed the legacy Gigabit Ethernet ports.

The transition to unified networking adds to the increasing demand for high bandwidth networking. IT departments are moving to unified networking to help simplify network infrastructure by converging LAN and SAN traffic, including iSCSI, FCoE, and NAS. This convergence drives greater network consolidation and simplifies the network, but it also significantly increases network I/O demand by enabling multiple traffic types to share a common Ethernet network.

Data centre deployment based on the latest generation of 10GE networking addresses the increased bandwidth needs driven by server virtualisation and unified networking. 10GE networking complements the growth of server virtualisation by providing greater bandwidth, freeing up precious rack space, and simplifying cabling. Consolidating traffic onto unified 10GE networking further reduces cabling and infrastructure complexity and enhances overall TCO. Enhancements to Ethernet networking allow 10GE support for both local-area networking (LAN) and storage-area networking (SAN) traffic, allowing IT to realise further benefits by unifying storage and networking infrastructures. Driven by its cost-effectiveness, flexibility, and ease-of-use, 10GE has emerged as the unified data centre fabric.

Media options for 10GE deployment
Data centre administrators have had a number of 10GE interfaces to choose from. While SFP+ Fibre and SFP+ DAC were behind initial deployments of 10GE, 10GBASE-T technology is driving mass adoption of 10GE.

10GBASE-CX4: The first 10G copper standard, CX4, is not widely used today due to its relatively large connector and inability to run at longer distances (limited to 15m).

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