Meeting the Challenge of 10GbE

What is the key to 10 Gigabit Ethernet? And is there one?

LAS VEGAS -- The IT world is moving to 10GbE as a way to boost the speed of the network. As that networking speed increases however there may be new challenges and new opportunities which is what a panel of experts debated at an Interop panel including Citrix, Cisco, Dell, VMware and Solarflare.

The panel event was attended by a standing room only crowd, which is indicative of the tremendous interest currently surrounding 10GbE.

Guy Brunsdon, technical marketing director at VMware argued that in order to take full advantage of 10GbE you need to be using virtualization.

Citrix's CTO Simon Crosby agreed with his competitor from VMware that virtualization is a driving force. Crosby noted that there is huge interest in moving desktop operating systems into the data center and then virtualizing the desktop for the end user.

"If you go down that path the challenges for data center are staggering," We are already consuming more bits than the network can provide and delivering 10GbE from a software stack is non-trivial."

Crosby argued that you need to have I/O virtualization where the hardware devices present themselves to virtual machines (VMs). In his view virtualizing network traffic is very difficult to do.

"From a performance point of view it is critical that the 10GbE interface is VM friendly on day one," Crosby said. "So that we can simply let vm's go straight to hardware."

Crosby went on to note that XenSource, which is the virtualization vendor that Citrix acquired (and where Crosby was formerly the CTO) has already been able to demonstrate with 10GbE vendor Solarflare how they can max out a 10GbE link and use the entire bandwidth capacity.

"More goodness in hardware is critical for us to take advantage of 10GbE because we can't drive it form a traditional software perspective," Crosby said.

Cisco's Doug Gourlay, senior director, Data Center Solutions Group, however took a bit of a contrarian view on the panel. First he took aim at the virtualization vendors by declaring that today virtualization is the most overused term in IT. Then he went on to question the value of even having the panel itself.

"10GbE isn't the end game it's just another faster packet," Gourlay said. "It's not that big a deal."

Gourlay then backtracked a little on his anti-virtualization vitriol by noting that virtualization does in fact drive the need for more bandwidth as it drives up overall network utilization.

"The concept of counting ports on a switch is a dead concept," Gourlay argued. "The port is dead, now it's about how many VM's it can support and that will drive bandwidth."

Robert Winter, technology strategist, Dell CTO Office added that Dell is seeing a lot of demand for 10GbE now. That said customer always want more.

"If we had a 40GbE controller today we'd use it," Winter said. "10GbE is not perfect today but it's better than it was."

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