"VLANs can address many of the issues associated with VoIP and video," Gittens says. "It's not a difficult matter to split off a voice pipe and a data pipe, instead of upgrading the whole pipe."
Moreover, even though 100 Mbps Ethernet is an old, established standard, it's possible that the network interface cards (NICs) in workstations themselves aren't even optimized to take full advantage of that bandwidth. "People forget that the NIC is often a big part of the network bottleneck," Gittens says. "It's one of the places where organizations fail to look when they're trying to get the most out of their networks."
Quite aside from making sure that all your NICs are 100 Mbps -- it can be surprising how many legacy 10base-T cards are still in use -- Gittens points to new technologies like Level 5's EtherFabric cards as a possible key to more efficient networking. "I don't know how that will play out in the long run," he says, "but it could be important." Rather than going for raw speed, he points out, technologies like EtherFabric improve the processing efficiency of the cards themselves.
The bottom line is that, far from delivering a networking ne plus ultra, speed is often a bit oversold. Just as it would be overkill to drive to the convenience store in a Ferrari for a quart of milk, a super-fast gigabit network is, in many cases, completely unnecessary for many organizations, despite what Gittens sees as vendor-driven hype.
"The average mid-sized company won't be installing a videoconferencing server," he says. "Most networks are still strictly or mainly data, and data can run quite comfortably on a 100 Mbps network, despite what the hype says."
With that in mind, the gigabit upgrade is often both unnecessary and a drain of funds that can be used more efficiently and economically elsewhere. "If a company has a lot of money burning a hole in its pockets, then there's nothing stopping it from spending as much as it needs to, to get as fast a network as possible," Gittens says. "Most companies aren't in that position, though."
Indeed, sometimes faster is not always better.