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Cost of 10 Gig Ethernet switches coming down

The cost of 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches is finally starting to come down, but that doesn't mean it's time for most companies to invest in them yet.

The cost of 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches is finally starting to come down, but that doesn't mean it's time for most companies to buy yet.

Last month, Force10 Networks Inc., the Milpitas, Calif., network equipment vendor, dropped its price for 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches and routers by 44%, to about $17,000 a port. That is a big discount, and other vendors are likely to follow suit. But the technology still has a bit of maturing to do and, perhaps most important, few businesses actually need that much bandwidth today.

Mark Fabbi, vice president at the Stamford, Conn., research firm Gartner Inc., said that when the new generation of Ethernet came out a few years ago, users were able to get 10 times the bandwidth for three times the cost. At that ratio, the technology was a good deal. With the recent price cuts, 10 Gigabit Ethernet gives users 10 times the bandwidth for between 10 and 15 times the cost.

Cost is a significant concern for Willis Marti, associate director of networking at Texas A& M University in College Station, Texas. The university is considering moving to 10 Gigabit Ethernet. One of the most pressing reasons is that the school already has a number of Gigabit Ethernet links going to its buildings on campus. To get the most from those connections, the switches connecting those links should have more than a gigabit of throughput.

A gradual rollout of 10 Gig

The state of Texas is also considering deploying a 10 Gigabit Ethernet network for universities across the state. To take full advantage of that system, the university will have to move to 10 Gigabit over the next two to five years, Marti said.

But that doesn't mean he is buying today. Marti is testing products from a number of vendors. In the near future, he is likely to set up a pilot project to begin learning about 10 Gigabit Ethernet and how best to deploy it. The technology is too expensive to begin deploying today on any large scale, he said, but the experience he expects to gain in the short term with a pilot is worth paying a higher price for the limited infrastructure today.

Another problem with deploying 10 Gigabit Ethernet today is that, with few exceptions, it not really 10 Gig. Kevin Walsh, director of the network performance lab at the San Diego Supercomputing Center at the University of California in San Diego, has tested most of the 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches on the market, and he has found that nearly all of them perform at 8 Gigabits or less. The only vendor with true 10 Gigabit switches today is Force10, he said.

There is a market for 10 Gig

But 10 Gigabit Ethernet does have its uses today. Large research centers involved in supercomputing, such as the San Diego center, large Web server farms and businesses that handle large files like video production and animation houses, all can benefit from 10 Gigabit Ethernet, Fabbi said. Also, a number of Fortune 250 companies are beginning to look at the technology.

Walsh has already found value from his 10 Gigabit Ethernet infrastructure, which was deployed in late 2001. The 10 Gigabit Ethernet routers and switches provide connectivity to Linux server clusters to enable massive grid computing projects.

R.R. Donnelly, a Chicago communications company that is one of the largest printers of Bibles in the world, is also aware of the value of 10 Gigabit Ethernet. John Schaefer, vice president of shared infrastructure at R.R. Donnelly, has been evaluating 10 Gigabit Ethernet as a potential cost-saving measure. The company is considering server consolidation and separating its storage area network (SAN) from its network. Because the organization works with large graphics files necessary for printing, 10 Gigabit may be a cost-effective approach, Schaefer said.

But that is not the case for most businesses today. Stan Schatt, a vice president at the Cambridge, Mass., research firm Giga Information Group, said that he is advising his clients to wait for prices to come down even more than they have, and for network applications to become more graphics-intensive. Real-time video to the desktop is likely to be one of the technologies that will make companies begin to seriously consider moving to 10 Gigabit Ethernet, he said.

When will that be? The end of 2004 or early 2005, Schatt said.


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