Moore's Law is seen as the performance driver of the IT industry, but the rise in desktop performance has actually been bypassed by the sonic boom of bandwidth. So while IT managers already scratch their heads over multigigahertz desktops and notebooks, they can at least pretend that someday soon they might start using speech interfaces or some other chip-clogging application. The idea of an app that will force them to upgrade their entire enterprise to Gigabit Ethernet boggles the mind.
That doesn't mean that a shift to gigabit networks won't happen. Indeed, it's already coming, particularly on LAN backbones.
PCs can't take full advantage of 1-Gbit speeds, Estrin says.
Gigabit Ethernet, then, has just one remaining roadblock between it and the mainstream: the market. Fast Ethernet came of age when the Internet and telephony bubbles were expanding. Gigabit Ethernet as a standard was released in 1999 and products started appearing just in time for the Internet bubble to burst. It should come as little surprise that the networking market has remained relatively flat from a revenue perspective, as businesses hunker down and avoid all but necessary upgrades. That's been easy to do, since few companies can directly point to a need for gigabit bandwidth. Medical facilities that shunt radiological images or movie studios with their glitzy graphics come to mind, but those are niche high-end environments. Voice over IP may change some of that, but most enterprises are installing the technology only when they add new facilities, if then.
"There is no single killer app for Gigabit Ethernet," says Steven Shalita, Cisco's senior manager of worldwide product marketing for LAN systems. "I don't think I could make the suggestion [to an enterprise] that you've got to scrap what you have and go buy Gigabit Ethernet." Shalita does believe that software trends such as automatic updates and backup, as well as the increasing push for more services, will eat up ever more bandwidth, prompting the need for companies to go to Gigabit Ethernet and ultimately 10 Gigabit Ethernet. He cites a Salomon Smith Barney study projecting that the amount of data generated by applications will increase between a 30% and 40% compounded annual growth rate, driven by everything from E-mail to data warehousing.
Regardless of whether it's needed, Gigabit Ethernet is spreading, particularly for backbone uses. Meta Group estimates that Gigabit Ethernet comprises about 10% of corporate network environments, a number that will steadily--then perhaps sharply--rise this decade.