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Preparing your WAN for 10 GbE implementation

Where can 10 GbE be used in a wide area network (WAN) and how can you prepare the WAN for such an implementation? Read this article to find out.

Speed: It’s what just about everyone needs when it comes to information. Faster throughput, lower latency and fewer errors -- all these are key reasons why Gigabit Ethernet continues to grow in popularity. And Ethernet, which at one time was one of several competing technologies for local area network (LAN) traffic, has become the networking protocol of choice. Its availability for wide area networks (WANs) and metropolitan area networks (MANs) is good news for networking executives.

Many of you reading this article are probably using Ethernet LANs running at speeds ranging from 10/100 Mbps to 1 Gbps. And if your organization has multiple buildings in a campus setting or multiple sites in a metropolitan area, you may be investigating still higher speeds to effectively link these sites. This is where 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE) makes sense.

Where 10 GbE can be applied

Similar to other Ethernet protocols, 10 GbE is based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.3 Ethernet standard. In the case of 10 GbE, the standard is called IEEE 802.3ae, and it is fully interoperable with existing Ethernet protocols. It differs from traditional Ethernet in that it is a full-duplex protocol, meaning it does not need Carrier Sense Multiple Access/Collision Detection (CSMA/CD) protocols. In every other way, 10 GbE is the same as the original Ethernet protocol. This is important for network managers because as the demand for speed increases, 10 Gb Ethernet can easily be deployed within existing networks, providing a cost-effective technology that can support high-speed, low-latency requirements. The IEEE 802.3ae standard permits distances between physical locations up to 40 kilometers over a single-mode fiber. Both single-mode and multi-mode fiber systems can be used with 10 GbE applications.

Similar to existing Ethernet protocols, 10 Gb Ethernet is a Layer 1 and 2 protocol that adheres to key Ethernet attributes, including the Media Access Control (MAC) protocol, the Ethernet frame format, and minimum and maximum frame size. 10 Gb Ethernet connects current to fiber optic cable but is expected to be compatible with twisted-pair copper as well. The standard supports connections to both LANs and WANs, and can connect to SONET and SDH wide area networks.

Applications for 10 GbE are numerous, simply because the protocol links to existing Ethernet environments and extends them farther and faster. Organizations with campus networks can increase data throughput across buildings to multigigabit speeds. Connectivity for multiple buildings in a metropolitan area can be addressed using 10 Gb Ethernet’s support for greater distances -- up to 40 kilometers (km) -- as compared to 1 Gb Ethernet service, which is limited to 5 km. The 10 GbE protocol’s support for WAN infrastructures such as SONET and SDH provide numerous applications for boosting WAN speeds and efficiency.

Figure 1 depicts how 10 GbE can reside within a variety of networks:

Networking applications of 10 GbE

Figure 1 -- Network applications for 10 GbE

Challenges to deploying 10 Gb Ethernet are primarily based on the costs to deploy versus the benefits received, along with issues associated with the potential replacement of legacy network technologies, such as point-to-point private lines and/or MPLS. Since 10 GbE is compatible with existing Ethernet protocols, the issues of planning and design can be relatively simple and straightforward.  

The following is a list of where 10 GbE is applicable:

  • For expanding, extending and upgrading existing Ethernet networks.
  • Support for intelligent services, such as streaming video.
  • Support for converged voice, data, text and video networks.
  • Greater bandwidth for server networks, storage area networks (SAN) and network attached storage (NAS) applications when compared to storage networking technologies such as Fibre Channel; ATM OC-3, OC-12 and OC-192; and HIPPI (High-Performance Parallel Interface).
  • Within data centers, switch-to-switch applications, as well as switch-to-server applications -- it can be deployed using a cost-effective, multi-mode fiber (and potentially copper) infrastructure.
  • Support for bandwidth-intensive applications, such as streaming video, medical imaging, telemedicine, high-end graphics, telecommuting, distance learning, interactive digital video conferencing, HDTV, video on demand and Internet games.
  • Connectivity to carrier-based wide area networks via linkage to WANs connected to geographically dispersed LANs between campuses or points of presence (POPs) over existing SONET/SDH/TDM networks.
  • Business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR), where the technology can be used to speed up the remote data backup process, thus ensuring that critical data will be available at an off-site location when it is needed and satisfy recovery time (RTO) and recovery point objectives (RPO).

Benefits of 10 Gb Ethernet service include the following:

  • Lower cost of ownership, including both acquisition and support costs versus current alternative technologies.
  • Ability to use familiar management tools and skills associated with Ethernet.
  • Flexibility in network design with server, switch and router connections.
  • Availability of multiple vendors that can provide standards-based products and technical support services.
  • Ability to provide high-bandwidth connectivity to remotely located data centers.
  • Reduced networking costs associated with using 10 GbE communications through economies of scale.
  • Replacement for dedicated high-capacity, point-to-point wired connections by packet-switched services.
  • Reduction of server inventory by providing single servers with sufficient bandwidth to handle multiple applications; this facilitates server consolidation and enhances server management, thus saving time and resources.
  • Less network latency, due to the link speed and high bandwidth, to compensate for bursty enterprise applications.

10 GbE implementation planning

If you are considering a transition to 10 Gb Ethernet service, the good news is that there are many vendors that offer 10 GbE products and support services, as well as network service providers whose service offerings can support high-capacity Ethernet protocols. Availability of single-mode and multi-mode fiber cables is extensive, as are the availability of connecting devices such as network interface cards (NICs) and standard cable connectors.

Use the following checklist when planning an upgrade to 10 GbE services:

    1. Carefully research your existing network (WAN or LAN) performance characteristics and map them to anticipated increases in demand for throughput, reduced latency and overall reliability.
    2. Identify other organizations that are using 10 GbE and learn what they did to upgrade.
    3. Determine how increased speed and reduced latency can add value to your business and the associated network infrastructure.
    4. Review your findings with management to determine if migration to higher network speeds can be justified from a business perspective.
    5. Identify opportunities within the current network infrastructure where increased network speed and throughput can be justified.
    6. Locate network points where a migration to 10 GbE can be justified.
    7. Identify short-term and longer-term applications where 10 GbE service will work and the payoff/benefit of such a deployment.
    8. Design a new network configuration that introduces 10 GbE service and determine how it will affect network performance characteristics.
    9. Once network configuration has been established, research equipment vendors and carriers to determine the best product/services and value for money.
    10. Issue a request for proposal (RFP) to selected vendors and carriers and obtain proposals for relevant equipment, systems and network services.
    11. Develop a project plan to replace existing network components with 10 GbE technology.
    12. Identify applications that will immediately benefit from 10 GbE technology and include them in the project plan for testing and acceptance.
    13. Prepare a schedule for network upgrade activities, including tests of the following: protocol transparency; old versus new technologies; network performance, latency and other relevant performance parameters; failover services -- in case of network disruption; and overall acceptance.
    14. Secure delivery of network components, such as cabling, connectors, switches, routers and NICs, and test for proper operation.
    15. Install network components and test for proper operation before cutover.
    16. Initiate cutover to 10 GbE service; conduct testing to ensure that all components are working properly and there are no operational conflicts or problems with protocols, security or recoverability.
    17. Ensure that all network installation and testing activities are documented.
    18. Conduct acceptance testing.
    19. Develop a disaster recovery plan for 10 GbE network assets; integrate with existing network and IT disaster plans.
    20. Complete installation of 10 GbE networking and enter into production mode.

The demand for faster data transport speeds and lower latency has encouraged network service providers, standards organizations and manufacturers to enhance data transport technology. The emergence and acceptance of 10 GbE is a prime example of how a proven technology -- Ethernet -- can be enhanced and improved to support a growing variety of business applications with reduced cost and complexity.

For more information,'s 10 Gigabit Ethernet tutorial explains how to connect data centers, storage, LANs and beyond.

This was last published in November 2011

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