Apex 10GBase-T Solutions

10GBase-T: Set for Mainstream Adoption in 2012?

The IEEE first standardized 10GBase-T (10 Gigabit Ethernet) six years ago, in 2006. But it still hasn't achieved major mainstream adoption in network data center yet. Why not, when it offers so many advantages over 100Base-T and 1000Base-T/1GBase-T? There are a number of reasons that have been quoted over the past few years, but it seems that most of the reasons have been addressed by hardware suppliers, making many feel that 2012 is the year that we'll begin to see major mainstream adoption of the standard in the data center and company networks.

Power Consumption Concerns Seen as Major Obstacle to Adoption

The original chip technologies that supported the 10GBase-T standard were clunky power hogs. These chips powering the Physical Layer Interface (PHY), as originally designed drew 25 Watts per port. That meant that a 25-port 10GBase-T switch drew upwards of 625 Watts. This power draw/heat dissipation was seen as the main obstacle to adoption of the standard for two reasons that are interconnected.

Someone's got to pay for that massive power load, and budget people couldn't see paying that much more for the gains that 10 Gigabit Ethernet gave to the organization over Gigabit Ethernet. And, the increased power draw also means increased heat dissipation. Heat is the enemy of any corporate data center.

This means that in order to compensate for the increased heat dissipation per port, there had to be a corresponding increase in air conditioning output. That increased air conditioning output shows itself to the budget people as more money being spent. This just wasn't supportable, especially when everyone's bottom lines were being hit extremely hard during the peak of the recession. There was just no way that companies hit hard the way they were could afford to shell out all that extra cash to keep a data center running 10GBase-T equipment up and running efficiently.

Advanced Lithography and Chip Designs to the Rescue

2010 saw a few advances in the technology (chip and board design) that decreased the power consumption of the 10GBase-T bit stream to 10 Watts. But, that was still too much power consumption and heat dissipation for comfortable adoption by most businesses.

However, chip designers have come up with new chip lithography processes which have reduced the chips 40-nm (nanometer) devices. These new 40-nm devices only dissipate 4 Watts per port. So now that 25-port switch is only dissipating 100 Watts. This means lower power bills, plus lower bills for the air conditioning to keep the data center operating at a safe temperature. The budget people are starting to lose their major argument for blocking the adoption of the 10 Gigabit Ethernet standard.

Even better, there's been another advance in the lithography process for the PHY chips that will soon see these chips being scaled down to 28-nm. These new devices will dissipate less than 2.5 Watts per port, meaning that 25-port switch now dissipates 62.5 Watts, which is even more manageable. This may not even require an increase in air conditioning workload to keep the data center at the optimum temperature. The benefits of 10GBase-T are starting to outweigh the drawbacks.

Full Backwards Compatibility Gives Increased Cost Benefit

Full backward compatibility with previous standards is possible through auto-negotiation switch technology. For organizations that see adoption of 10 Gigabit Ethernet data streams as mission critical, backwards compatibility with existing equipment is seen to be another major key to adoption of the standard.

This is because fiber 10G can't deliver backwards compatibility with previous standards, making it more costly to adopt for enterprise network use. As long as the organization has already installed Cat6 or Cat6A cabling, they can upgrade at will and as needed and not worry about a lack of compatibility between newer and older sections of the network or equipment on the network.

This backwards compatibility is important in organizations with hundreds of 100Base-T and/or 1000Base-T desktops and servers on the network. They can operate their data centers at 10 Gigabit and upgrade the rest of the computers and servers on the network as needed or as the budget to do so becomes available.

Other Benefits of Adoption Being Discussed

The GbE Base-T technology allows further cost savings through the use of two protocols. One is Wake-On-Lan allows a computer or server to enter a "sleep state" and "wake up" when there is LAN activity. This sleep state can mean cost savings. The other is Low Power Idle Mode which is similar and delivers an even greater cost savings for the organization. Neither of these protocols are available with SFP or SFP+ fiber.

Many detractors were citing latency issues as an argument against early and full adoption of the standard versus the fiber technologies. However, vendors are claiming that they've gotten latency down to the low microsecond range, negating that argument.

Overall, 2012 and 2013 look good for mainstream adoption of the 10GBase-T products to take off. Per port costs are down, and look to go even lower, the cabling infrastructure is mostly in place, and it offers full backwards compatibility. It should be a slam dunk and great ROI.