A broad group of vendors announced their first products for Fibre Channel over 10-Gbit Ethernet last week. Separately, startup SolarFlare today is expected to announce a transceiver that can power 10-Gbit Ethernet up to 100 meters over copper on a single 65-nanometer CMOS chip that dissipates just 5.5 watts.
The moves fuel a broad industry drive to run networking, storage and clustering traffic over a single, mainstream pipe in tomorrow's data centers. The aim is to create one converged fabric, reducing the cost and power requirements of supporting today's multiple switches, adapter cards and cables.
"Somewhere between 50 and 70 percent of the Fortune 1000 companies are going to be building data centers in the next three years," said Renato Recio, a chief engineer for server networking at IBM Corp. "They are looking for technologies to make them more green, and this network convergence group has that value--this rings for customers," he said.
Cisco Systems, Emulex, Intel, Mellanox and QLogic were among the many vendors that announced the first crop of Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) products at Storage Networking World in Orlando last week. But with the exception of a few, including Cisco, many of the vendors are waiting for ASICs and standards to be completed before they attempt to field high-volume FCoE products.
The work on the 10GBase-T standard for Ethernet over copper lines only indirectly fuels the network convergence. Its primary aim is to lower the cost of and expand the market for 10-Gbit Ethernet, which has been limited to expensive optical and short-reach copper cables to date.
Running 10-Gbit signals over copper typically has required multiple chips using as much as 12 W. The SolarFlare SFT 9001 transceiver could slash the power budget in half, but the company is still characterizing first silicon on the part, which it hopes to sample in May at less than $100.
"This is first silicon coming back, and it is very complex, but we are bringing it up now and we may productize on this stepping," said Bruce Tolley, vice president of marketing for SolarFlare. "We could be a quarter to a third the price of the cheapest optics."
The 21-mm2 part is the third effort by the company, which was formed in 2001 and has raised $110 million in venture capital. The chip is intended for sockets in a broad range of servers, switches and network appliances.
Other startups, including Aquantia and Teranetics, are pursing a similar target, while established vendors such as Broadcom and Marvell may also be on the trail. One startup, KeyEye Communications, went bust in March pursuing the goal.
Without a long-reach copper option, the rise of 10-Gbit Ethernet has been sluggish to date. Less than 400,000 10-Gbit Ethernet switch ports were shipped last year--perhaps half of them not populated--and only about 30,000 server cards have been sold.
"Our goal is to put together a 10-Gbit Ethernet server card that could sell for a $500 street price" before June 2009, said Tolley. "With this new silicon, we expect the market will start accelerating."
"Getting 10GBase-T chips down to a 5-W level will enable some realistic deployment," said Bob Wheeler, senior analyst with The Linley Group (Mountain View, Calif.), "but it's still a horse race to see who can get that to production and what the exact power consumption levels will be."