Vendors are divided over the technology; IBM gave it high marks, but Cisco's new switch group gave it a pass.
"In my opinion, 10GBase-T is a very important piece because it significantly reduces my price point to use copper," said Recio of IBM. "I'd rather not use fiber in a rack, and it's an even better deal if my end-of-row switch can use copper."
The 10GBase-T technology "is great in terms of compatibility and simplicity," said Dante Malagrino, director of product marketing for data center solutions at Nuova Systems, acquired last week by Cisco. "But the additional power, cost and latency means it is not really feasible for us, and I don't think we will use it."
Nuova, a 200-person startup, announced its first product--a 10-Gbit Ethernet switch supporting FCoE--and plans to use a hybrid solution, based on a new copper cable terminated by SFP+ optical transceivers, that it claims has lower power requirements and lower latency than the 10GBase-T options. Malagrino pegged 10GBase-T at 2 to 3 microseconds in latency and 4 to 8 W per link in power consumption. The new hybrid option will initially be limited to 1-, 3- and 5-meter lengths but could shave 30 percent off the overall costs of an optical fiber link, he said.
First foray in FCoE
On the FCoE front, most vendors have not yet completed work on new ASICs and software, with the exception of a few companies, such as Cisco. Because of the still-evolving nature of the underlying standards, even Cisco's new Nexus 5000 switch may need a software upgrade to comply with work on FCoE in separate T11 and IEEE groups.
The Linley Group's Wheeler noted that the new Emulex LightPulse LP21000 server card for FCoE uses four chips: separate Ethernet and Fibre Channel controllers, along with a PCI Express switch and an address translation chip. The Emulex card runs existing Fibre Channel software drivers, tested on most current storage systems.
Emulex would not state the power consumption of the card, except to say it comes in under the 25-W limit for an Express slot. The company plans a more integrated offering in 2009.
"It's not the most cost- or power-efficient product and looks more like a proof of technology than a high-volume product," Wheeler said of the Emulex card.
"The first half of 2009 is our target as an industry to get there with a competitive solution," said Recio of IBM. "If I get there with two or three times the parts, it's not worth it," he added, underlining the need for ASICs.
A top technologist at Fibre Channel switch maker Brocade Communications agreed. "Participating vendors are releasing prestandard products in 2008 for evaluation and test purposes, which will drive development of the integrated silicon in 2009," said John Hufferd, senior executive director of technology at Brocade. "Work done in 2009 will validate the use cases and contribute to actionable, deployable solutions for the data center in 2010 and going forward."
Cisco appears to be one of the few companies delivering an ASIC-based product at this point. The Nexus 5000 uses as many as five ASICs, including multiple instances of two key chips, said Nuova's Malagrino. "You need hardware to handle these transactions at line speeds."
One main ASIC in the Cisco system is a port controller that acts as an Ethernet controller, handling packet buffering and virtual queuing for lossless traffic. The other is a nonblocking crossbar switch with an aggregate bandwidth of more than a terabit/ second and an integrated traffic scheduler.
The system also uses a supervisory unit based on an Intel CPU running a new operating system co-developed by Cisco and Nuova. That OS is a hybrid based on the storage operating system used in Cisco's first Fibre Channel switch and Cisco's classic IOS networking software.
"All of the physical-layer definitions to make hardware compliant have been done in the standards groups," said Malagrino. "Most likely we will be able to claim [standards] compliance out of the gate [when the product ships in May], or, in the worst case, we will need a software upgrade."
The T11 spec for FCoE will probably be completed by August, according to Recio. However, the IEEE work, which is defining a lossless version of Ethernet to be a more robust foundation for FCoE, still has a ways to go.
"We saw that not enough progress was being made; we were stuck in a rut," said Recio. "So I called all these people in December, and we formed a new group, CEE Authors."
That group--adopting the name Converged Enhanced Ethernet, which many have used for the lossless standard--hopes to complete proposals before the end of May in three specific areas. The proposals will then be submitted to the IEEE group.
Some vendors want to implement products based on the proposals as a "Version 0" that they would upgrade later to the final standard set by the IEEE group.
"We think it's a good thing, and we are telling our customers a Version 0 product is fine," said Recio.
The CEE Authors group is chaired by Recio and includes representatives from Broadcom, Brocade, Cisco, Emulex, Fujitsu, IBM, Intel, Juniper, QLogic and Sun.