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10 GB Ethernet: the Backend Battle

Traditional server virtualization has the benefit of being able to adapt quickly to infrastructure changes over fewer physical hosts. So we should naturally be able to adapt new technologies easily, right? Not so fast, virtual server guy! This may be the tone many may face when looking at 10 GB Ethernet, also known as 10-GigE, for virtualization hosts.

10 GB Ethernet will be a fundamental component of the next generation datacenter. In fact, the new Cisco Unified Computing System will have a backend 10-GigE connection for the components.

But the reality is that many organizations are simply not ready for 10-GigE connections. The main reason is port cost for current and future switches. Most virtualization platforms currently have support for 10-GigE connections from the driver perspective; VMware environments have supported it since the base release of ESX 3.5. At this point, it may be a good idea to start considering purchasing hosts that have support for 10-GigE, even if the backend ports are not yet available.

Port and adapter issues aside, I can't wait for 10-GigE on the host. VM migrations would zip along, iSCSI networks would get a big boost in throughput, and any VM copy operations that utilize the network could perform faster.

The big question is, where is the money going to come from? The adapter cost and port cost is substantial at this point, and a higher cost burden is put on the network infrastructure. Spot-checking a few configurations for virtualization hosts, there is a price jump starting around $900 per 10-GigE port for common configurations. The network costs, however, are much higher per port when 10-GigE is introduced.

What should you be doing? Start the conversation with your network team (if a separate group) and get on your server hardware vendor to provide access to a product roadmap (under non-disclosure) to make sure you are making the right short-term and long-term decisions. I'm curious about adoption rates of 10-GigE among virtualization administrators. Drop me a line with your approach to the next networking frontier or share your stance below.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 03/23/2009 at 12:47 PM


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