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Server virtualization drives 10 Gigabit Ethernet interest

With prices coming down and network loads rising, VARs see more 10 Gigabit Ethernet adoptions.

VARs have been anticipating data center migrations to 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE) networking for a few years, but customers are only now getting beyond the kicking-the-tires phase. Lower component prices and heavier server use have amped customer desire for faster 10 GbE infrastructures. Simply put, the common 1 GbE infrastructure they're running is no longer enough.

John Barker, president of Versatile Communications, said customers didn't consider 10 GbE to be a viable option as recently as two years ago. But server consolidation and heavy virtualization use has changed that.

Barker's company has offered 10 GbE for years, but customer pickup just ramped up in the last year, he said. "Nothing is getting smaller, so it's easier to justify, and now customers expect us to put 10 GbE in the packages that we put together."

Lane Irvine, practice director of network services at Long View Systems, also sees greater interest in 10 GbE networks.

"Before, the big barriers for customers were money and them asking 'Can we drive it?'" Irvine said. "Now that the price is coming down, 10 G makes sense and we're able to push it."

In many cases, migrations are driven by customers making needed data center server upgrades. Long View, for example, sees customers upgrading their networks as they move to new Cisco Nexus (5k or 7k), 4900 Catalyst 10Gb switches, 3750X 10Gb switches or Unified Compute Systems (UCS) gear.

Other popular products include Intel Converged Network Adaptors and 10 GbE network interfaces for NetApp and/or EMC storage, VARs said.

Joe Onisick, tech solutions architect at St. Louis-based World Wide Technology Inc., agreed that 10 GbE adoptions have ramped up.

"Over the last year and a half, we've seen slow adoption [of 10 GbE] because of the bad economy," Onesick said. "But this year, spending is up on 10 GbE migrations as companies roll out more virtualization and servers at the access layer, [and] especially when they move to more of a converged infrastructure they need more bandwidth."

As VARs pack networks with more gear and as data transmission needs soar, the networks themselves need to be faster than the older 1 GbE pipes. "There have never been more entry points to a network and because of that, networks need to be more dynamic," Barker said. "High-speed networks are becoming mainstream."

Virtualization drives 10 GbE

Mark Melvin, CTO of EPlus Inc., said other technical projects often drive these network upgrades. "A lot of times you're already in [an account] doing the virtualization work, so this is actually the up-sell from that. You go in with virtualization and end up with the network upgrade."

That's a nice opportunity. Depending on what a data center already has installed, a move from 1 GbE to 10 GbE can mean new cabling, new network interface cards, new host bus adapters, as well as routers and switches.

The simple fact is that more complex applications and heavier traffic make faster networks nonnegotiable.

"Customers always get caught up in current trends, such as server consolidation or VDI," Barker said. "The new applications are cool; larger bandwidth applications are becoming opportunities for partners."

Some VARs say one of the last remaining hurdles to full 10 GbE adoption will fall when more servers incorporate 10 GbE connections right on their system boards. According to Intel's roadmap, that should happen by mid 2011.

Getting ready for 40 GbE and 100 GbE

As customers finally adopt 10 GbE six years into its life cycle, specifications have already been hammered out for 40 and 100 GbE. Some VARs see 10 GbE as a necessary step to even faster networks down the line.

"Force10 [Networks] last week just announced some 40G line cards, so products are coming online to support even faster networks," Onesick said.

Irvine doesn't see companies making the move to 40 GbE and 100 GbE right now, but said 10 GbE will make it easier for customers to upgrade later on.

"You hear stories about a company like Google asking about 40 GbE, but our customers aren't asking about it right now," Irvine said. "But that's obviously the next step down the line."

Barker doesn't see companies lining up for 40 GbE or 100 GbE any time soon.

"I can see how they would be logical choices eventually, though," Barker said. "Companies may eventually want to upgrade from 1 GbE to 10 GbE with 40 GbE out of the back."

Barbara Darrow, Senior News Director, contributed to this article.

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