Trends to Watch in 10GBASE-T and the Data Center

April 11, 2014 / General, Standard and Certification, Upgrading and troubleshooting

Network engineers need to pay attention to some emerging trends in the industry. In a report published earlier this year, “Data Center Switch Long-Range Forecast Report,’ Crehan Research Inc. predicted that the data center switch market will grow to $16 billion by 2017, and Ethernet, including Fibre Channel-over-Ethernet, will become an ever-increasing portion of the overall market.

Within the Ethernet segment, Crehan Research anticipates “very strong growth” for both 10GBASE-T switches and 40 Gigabit Ethernet-capable switches (40GbE).

“Given the mid-2012 step-function increase in 10GBASE-T server adapter and LAN-on-Motherboard shipments and subsequent introduction of numerous attractively-priced 10GBASE-T data center switches, we expect exponential growth in 10GBASE-T switch port shipments,” Seamus Crehan, president of Crehan Research, noted when the report was released.

The firm thinks the strong ramp up in 40GbE will be driven by several factors. First, the upgrade to 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) switches in the server access layer should drive 40GbE deployments in the uplink, aggregation and core sectors of data center networks. Second, 40GbE, with its QSFP interface, also can be used as four individual 10GbE links, which not only provides very high 10GbE switch port density but also gives uplink/downlink and oversubscription/wire-speed flexibility.

The report predicts robust increases for 100 Gigabit Ethernet Switches (100GbE), but indicates that while 100GbE will likely be an important long-term data center switch technology, prices and port densities have ways to go “before it achieves a meaningful market impact.”

For nearly a decade, the main deployment of 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) has been using network interface cards supporting enhanced Small Form-Factor Pluggable transceivers, according to a recent post by David Fair of the Ethernet Storage Forum (the marketing arm of the Storage Networking Industry Association). The predominant transceivers for 10GbE are Direct Attach copper, short range optical (10GBASE-SR), and long-range optical (10GBASE-LR), Fair notes.

The Direct Attach copper option is the least expensive of the three, but its adoption has been hampered by two key limitations, Fair said: range is limited to 7m and because of the SFP+ connector, it’s not backward-compatible with existing 1GbE infrastructure using RJ-45 connectors and twisted-pair cabling. But 10GBASE-T addresses both of these limitations, he says.

Market adoption of 10GBASE-T accelerated with the first single-chip 10GBASE-T controllers to hit production, Fair says. “This integration become possible because of Moore’s Law advances in semiconductor technology, which also enabled the rise of dense commercial switches supporting 10GBASE-T,” he writes. Switches supporting 10GBASE-T are now available from Cisco, Dell, Arista, Extreme Networks, and others.

Clearly, widespread use of 10 GbE over twisted-pair copper cabling will be on the rise. Field certification of installed twisted-pair Category 6/ 6A/ Class E cabling per TIA/EIA-568-C and ISO 11801 standards includes all the test parameters for 10GBASE T The major change for 10 GbE was that the frequency range for these tests now extends to 500 MHz in order to support the higher data rates of the 10 GbE signaling technology.

Fluke Networks’ DTX 1800 CableAnalyzer, has been utilized extensively to certify cabling to prepare it for 10GBASE-T upgrades.     The DTX-1800 not only performs the “In-Channel” link performance but also the “Between-Channel” alien crosstalk performance. The DTX CableAnalyzer Series from Fluke Networks is the only efficient and standards compliant testing solution for certifying new 10Gig links, or recertifying old ones to prepare for a 10GBASE-T upgrade.     For more detail on how to test cabling to support 10GBASE-T check out our knowledge base here.