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Is it time to upgrade your datacenter backbone?

10 GbE might become passe' before it becomes ubiquitous. What are your upgrade plans?
Written by David Chernicoff, Contributor

It has taken quite a while but 10 GbE has become the standard for datacenter network backbones. Compared to the adoption rate for earlier versions of high-performance Ethernet, 10 GbE has had a veritably glacial rate of acceptance, which brings us to an interesting point.

Back in September, the Ethernet Alliance held a plugfest event for 40 GbE and 100 GbE equipment as a way of showing how close to reality these newer high-performance backbones actually were, and in November, at Supercomputing 2010, CommScope and Cisco demonstrated a viable networking ecosystem using their equipment to support 40 and 100 GbE connectivity. Earlier in 2010, AT&T completed live field trials using Cisco equipment implementing a 100 GbE  networking environment.

So what does this mean to your datacenter? Generally, purchasers of networking backbone infrastructure equipment would have looked to future-proof their purchases by looking for chassis and equipment that were upgradeable to the next level of performance standards. But there are a number of other factors to consider beyond performance.

It's likely that since your last infrastructure refresh the issue of green computing has come up; it's only in the last few years that this has become a major issue, and if you are moving towards the end of your equipment cycle, your existing networking hardware likely predates the push to energy efficiency as a major concern.

So what do you plan on looking for in your next generation backbone equipment? Energy efficiency and power management goes pretty much without saying, but do you plan on investing in 10 GbE now, and upgrade to 40 or 100 GbE in the near term?  Are you considering just waiting on greater availability of the faster technologies and replace from your core outward with the fastest currently supported backbone?  Do you have the wiring plant in place to support the higher performance networking? And are there changes that need to be made to your environment to prepare the way for a new, maximum performance backbone?

When I talk to various different datacenter administrators I get a wide variety of answers and a lot more expressions of concern over the direction they need to take to replace their datacenter backbone infrastructure.  Let me know what the decision points for your choices were and I'll spread the word.

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