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First 10GBase-T Cards Face Price Hurdles

The first server adapter cards designed to send Ethernet packets up to 100 meters at 10 Gbits/second over standard copper cables are beginning to flow.

San Jose, Calif. -- The first server adapter cards designed to send Ethernet packets up to 100 meters at 10 Gbits/second over standard copper cables are beginning to flow. But high prices, high power consumption, limited range and requirements for new cables will put a damper on first-generation products for the 10GBase-T standard.

Chelsio Communications Inc. said its 10GBase-T adapter for servers, set to sample this week, will send data 30 to 50 meters. "Basically, we adjusted the power consumption to stay within the 25-watt maximum of a PCI Express card. If you have a separate power connector for the card, it becomes a curiosity," said Kianoosh Naghshineh, president and chief executive of Chelsio (Sunnyvale, Calif.). "I think I can cover the bulk of the data center's needs with this distance."

Naghshineh said the adapter cards currently consume more than 24 W, "but we hope to get that down to 23 W." By contrast, the company's 10-Gbit cards, which carry signals just a few inches over Infiniband cables, consume 16 W.

Chelsio chose the TeraPHY 10GBase-T transceiver from Teranetics for the card because it's a single chip, has low enough power consumption and was one of the few ready to ship, Naghshineh added.

"The first-generation PHYs [physical-layer devices] are all power hogs," he said. "I suspect by the end of the year we will see more PHY vendors emerge. All the vendors will target newer process technologies to lower power, and that's when things will take off."

Startup SolarFlare Communications (Irvine, Calif.) helped pioneer the 10GBase-T standard and is expected to launch its own adapter cards soon. The company is developing PHY and media-access controller devices as well as selling its own cards using the chips.

Chelsio priced its initial 10GBase-T board at $1,995. It offers full TCP/IP offload and support for remote direct-memory access (RDMA) and iSCSI. A so-called stateless version of the board without the offload, RDMA and iSCSI support sells for $1,295.

"We have been halving our prices every year or so, but we will not cut it so soon this time. The typical server design cycle is 18 months," said Naghshineh.

Cable problems
The 10GBase-T standard requires the use of Category 6 or 7 cabling rather than CAT5e, which is a staple in most data centers. But Chelsio believes the need for new cabling will not be a huge impediment.

The brunt of installed CAT5e cabling links individual Gigabit Ethernet desktops to the data center. Using relatively short spans of Category 6 or 7 within the data center will be acceptable to end users now restricted to short-reach products based on Infiniband cables, Naghshinxeh said.

Chelsio has not yet tested its adapter cards to see what distances they support over CAT5e. Neither has the company tested them for latency.

One advantage of the Chelsio adapters is that they can autonegotiate between 1- and 10-Gbit data rates. That will let users upgrade servers without needing to upgrade all their data center switches immediately. The first 10GBase-T switches are expected to ship by April.

Long term, 10GBase-T holds the promise of becoming a unified network carrying networking, storage and clustering traffic in a data center. But before the technology fills that role, it will have to demonstrate that it competes with Infiniband and Fibre Channel--now well established in clustering and storage networking, respectively--in speed, latency and costs.

Meanwhile, Intel Corp. has been promoting a concept it calls I/O Acceleration Technology. Using advances in its processors and chip sets, the company hopes to eliminate the need for expensive TCP/IP offload processors.