Copper is dead; are you ready for the future?

Even faster Ethernet speeds means the demise of copper in the datacenter. Are you ready for it?
Written by David Chernicoff, Contributor

With the IEEE on track to approve the 802.3ba standard by mid-summer, what effect will the adoption of 40Gb and 100Gb Ethernet have on your operations? The most obvious answer is based on where you currently stand on your upgrade cycle within your datacenter. Users who are in the evaluation process or planning on purchasing new switching and interconnection hardware should clearly be considering the impact this new technology will have on their buying decisions.  But the adoption of 802.3ba might have a far more reaching impact on existing datacenters; the death of copper cabling.

With the current standard proposal supporting copper cabling (and not UTP) of lengths of only 7 meters, the need for a fully optical cabling platform is quite clear. Unfortunately, current datacenter management is likely considering the history of the adoption of 10GbEl; it took a long time from the point of standardization to the point of widespread adoption. But the looming specter of cloud computing should make datacenter operators reconsider any delays in their time table.

When 1 GbE was the standard server connection it rapidly became a commodity. This meant that a relatively short wait meant that the benefits of the faster networking became possible at a much lower price point.  10GbE has taken much longer to work its way into the corporate networking world, and prices have remained fairly stable, and while 40 GbE products are available from a few backbone networking vendors, the standard has yet to be approved, so that has limited the adoption of these pre-standard products.

But the implementation of widespread cloud computing services being delivered by the datacenter means that the speed of the network backbone within the datacenter is going to be a critical differentiator between the services provided by different datacenters. This means that datacenters with the fully optical cabling infrastructure needed to support 802.3ba will be able to more quickly implement the appropriate switching and routing hardware and offer their customers better service. They will also be able to offer virtualized services and consolidated server environments in a more cost effective manner, as networking bottlenecks will be significantly reduced by the higher speed interconnections.

The release of the 802.3ba standard might well be the next tipping point for datacenter operations. The convergence of the hardware capability (40Gb/100Gb networks) with the newest broad spectrum technology concept (cloud computing) will definitely bring about a major change in the operation of datacenters, from both the technical and business perspective.

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