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Intel: 10Gb Adoption In Datacenter Networks


Tech Field Day Presenting Company: Intel (

Going into Tech Field Day, I was really curious as to what Intel could possibly be presenting on. Their portfolio of products is ridiculously huge… and there are spins that you could put on each one to make it relevant for a discussion. So, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that one of the presentations was regarding the Intel Ethernet products surrounding the emerging 10Gb datacenter Ethernet connectivity.

10Gb Ethernet is one of those topics that end up being the elephant in the room… much like an IPv6 conversation or disaster recovery. We all know it is great… more bandwidth in the datacenter is always appreciated. However, adoption requires a massive expense in the purchase of adapters and switching as well as a coordinated effort to migrate IP services to the new NICs and switching (maintenance windows, hardware installations, etc…).

Currently, a quick search online ( — Criteria “10Gb NIC 10GBASE-T”) is showing NICs ranging in price from ~$540 — $1,650. Similarly, a quick search online ( — Criteria “10Gb Switch” is showing switches ranging from 2 10Gb uplinks at ~$1,579.00 to ~$15,000. Now, this post is not meant to be a price guide by any means. However, the prices do reflect the high price of adoption in datacenter environments.

With 1Gb networking the defacto standard in datacenter environments, getting companies to migrate to a networking technology to replace their existing environment is a hard pill to swallow.

Additionally, a point missed my most people in the field is that the server adapters (PCIe, for example) take quite a bit of power to operate. In 2008, a $999/port NIC from Intel consumed 25W/port. In 2009, a $599/port NIC from Intel consumed 15W/port. Typical Intel NICs appear to be running at 1W/port (running at 1Gb speed) (see Intel 8254PI Ethernet Controller Overview for an example). For single implementations, the increased power consumption may be negligible. However, when implemented en-masse, the power consumption shoots through the roof. Power and cooling (heat production being a byproduct of increased power consumption) are two of the major variables that impact how much a datacenter costs to run. So, costs of hardware, increased power consumption, and cooling come into play.

However, Intel is looking to change all of that in the near future.

While the push has already begun to sell their adapters, the mass adoption will begin shortly next year. In 2011, Intel expects to see the addition of their LAN On Motherboard (LOM) chips (aka — the integrated LAN ports on your server and workstation motherboards) included with newly purchased servers and workstations. This, in combination with other 10Gb LOM manufacturers, is going to be the driving force to adoption of the 10Gb networks in datacenters.

Businesses are hesitant to purchase new infrastructure as there is major expense (see above). However, when the new infrastructure is included with the new purchases they make, suddenly the investment becomes less and they make purchases to leverage the new technology they possess. The simple facts that the 10Gb Ethernet ports are included on their servers and are backwards compatible with the standard 1Gb Ethernet deployed in their environment, companies are going to acknowledge the technology.

As more and more ports are deployed in corporate environments, switching manufacturers are going to need to realize the benefit in lowering the price point to increase adoption and sales. It is better to lower the switch price from $10,000 to $5,000 and sell many more. Now, as products become available to handle the bandwidth, companies are going to adopt the technologies.

Various other datacenter products exist or are emerging that take advantage of the high bandwidth opportunities that are presented with 10Gb Ethernet… storage platforms and virtualization platforms being the two most likely candidates that will fully utilize the high bandwidth. As companies see the advantages and increases in performance and efficiency that the higher bandwidth connectivity provides, they will embrace the new technology and ensure it is the new standard in their specific datacenter.

As far as power consumption is concerned, the LOM modules are expected to run at 5W/port. This drastically drops the power consumption model as it is compared to what 2008 had to offer (a mere 20% of the previous values). Plus, when you compare the 5W/10Gb-port versus 1W/1Gb-port, the new 10Gb ports are decreasing the power consumption by 50% per 1Gb.

It is true that the inclusion of the 10Gb NIC LOMs are going to be the driving force that pushes adoption of the 10Gb Ethernet into the datacenter. Intel appears to have acknowledged the need to include their LOM modules on new purchases to help ensure their place in the market and push the datacenter network to speeds it only once dreamt of. How it fares against other server vendors and 10Gb hardware providers is yet to be seen.

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Bill Hill

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