10-Gbps Ethernet Set For Growth - InformationWeek

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Paul Travis
Paul Travis

10-Gbps Ethernet Set For Growth

Lower prices and faster speeds may spur businesses to upgrade their networks with new switches

Falling prices for 10-Gbps Ethernet switches may spur a new round of network upgrades by businesses that want to give bandwidth-hungry applications more speed. Alcatel and Hewlett-Packard last week introduced several aggressively priced 10-Gbps switches, joining a host of other faster and cheaper switches introduced in recent months.

They're all taking aim at switch-market leader Cisco Systems, which recently unveiled its retooled line of Catalyst Ethernet switches featuring new devices, additional 10-Gbps capabilities, improved availability, and better security.

Lower prices for faster switches may convince business-technology managers that now is the time to upgrade their networks, many of which still operate at Ethernet (10 Mbps) or Fast Ethernet (100 Mbps) speeds. "This technology is becoming essential for businesses that are upgrading networks that are 5 or 6 years old," says Joel Conover, a principal analyst for enterprise infrastructure at research firm Current Analysis.

Many businesses have bought new desktop PCs and notebooks that have trimode connections that support 10/100/1,000 Mbps, but they haven't yet upgraded their networks to provide 1,000 Mbps--or 1 Gbps--to the desktop. By adding 10-Gbps switches to the edge or core of their networks, businesses will have enough horsepower to deploy faster speeds to the desktop.

More than 16,000 10-Gbps switch ports were sold worldwide in the third quarter at an average price of $6,000 per port, says Seamus Crehan, a director at research firm Dell'Oro Group. "We've seen strong growth in 10-Gig, but it's coming off a small base," he says. "The dramatic price declines have helped that growth."

10-Gbps Worldwide SalesChartCisco says businesses are buying more 10/100/1,000-Mbps switching ports on its modular products than the 10/100-Mbps versions, creating a need for faster switches to aggregate and move that traffic around a company network. Cisco added 10-Gbps capabilities to several of its existing switches and introduced 20 devices, including Catalyst 6500 and 4500 supervisor engines and Catalyst 6500, 3750, and 3560 switches with power-over-Ethernet capabilities. It also unveiled what it calls the industry's first Gigabit Ethernet-enabled IP phone, which permits gigabit speeds to the desktop over a single cable to serve both an IP phone and a PC.

Rival vendors are trying to grab share from Cisco, which still dominates the switching market. Cisco sold around two-thirds of the managed switch ports bought in the third quarter in North America, according to Dell'Oro Group.

Alcatel introduced the OmniSwitch 6800 line of Gigabit Ethernet switches, which feature 24 or 48 1-Gbps ports and can accommodate slide-in 10-Gbps modules. The switches include more redundancy to eliminate single points of failure, and enhanced security capabilities to enforce user authentication and authorization and to quarantine viruses and worms. A 48-port version loaded with a two-port 10-Gbps module costs around $24,000.

HP took the wraps off the 6400 line of 10-Gbps switches designed for the network core or key traffic-distribution points. HP is pushing a different network approach that calls for more intelligence at the network edge and simple, high-bandwidth devices at the network core. It offers 10-Gbps-over-copper modules for around $900 per port; fiber modules are priced at less than $5,400 per port.

Other switch vendors such as Enterasys, Foundry Networks, Nortel Networks, and 3Com have similar products on the market, and they're beginning to compete more aggressively on price.

Says analyst Conover: These products "let businesses build networks on gigabit speeds and then when they start outgrowing them, they can start buying the 10-Gig modules and add them in."

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