The recent emergence of Gigabit Ethernet, along with relating technologies such as iSCSI, provides an opportunity to upgrade even small workgroup or departmental sized networks significantly with new and enhanced capabilities. Many new computers such as the higher end Apple Macintoshes, motherboards from the major manufacturers, and others now come with Gigabit Ethernet included. You can also buy Gigabit Ethernet switches and hubs for relatively low cost. Combining these can help you create the equivalent of a local "backbone" in your network.
One very obvious application of a single fast path is to provide more efficient backup performance. If your backup server has a GigE connection to a switch, and that switch concentrates the traffic from other switches and hubs, you can get much greater throughput than you can get with slower Ethernet connections. This is particularly valuable in situations where the application server (in this case backup) is I/O limited.
There is a low cost barrier to entry to begin to build a backbone. For example, a four port 10/100/1000 GigE switch such as Netgear's GS104 can be purchased for less than $150. That switch would allow you sufficient flexibility to fan out from one to three application servers, while providing anywhere from one to three connections to hubs and switches downlinking from it. A 9 port 10/100 Ethernet switch with one GigE port, such as the Netgear FS509, can be purchased for under $700 new. So for under $1000 you can build a high performance pipe on your network. These prices will come down substantially over the next 18 months as the technology goes mainstream.
Barrie Sosinsky is president of consulting company Sosinsky and Associates (Medfield MA). He has written extensively on a variety of computer topics. His company specializes in custom software (database and Web related), training and technical documentation.