Why 10G Ethernet is not a near-term issue for us

November 29, 2010

In my entry on the lifetime of our fileserver infrastructure, I said that 10G Ethernet wasn't something that I expected to force hardware changes on us in the next three years. The reason for this is pretty simple: it is too expensive now.

Well, sort of. What is actually important is what happens because 10G Ethernet is so expensive, namely that it is vanishingly rare today. Rarity matters in several ways. First and most obviously, by default rarity means low or no demand for something; with no 10G shipping on machines that our users deploy, there is no demand for us to supply them with 10G connections, 10G switches, and so on. In fact there is basically no point in trying to support 10G connection speeds early even if we had the money, because we can get better and cheaper hardware by waiting until we actually need it.

Second, there is inevitably going to be a learning process with 10G, where software and configurations have to be tuned to get the speed and then take advantage of it. This learning process will not really get under way until 10G is relatively pervasive, not just here but in developer hardware, and that is not going to happen while 10G is expensive.

(The learning process matters because until it's complete, 10G hardware will be less attractive than it looks because you can't actually get all the nice performance that it theoretically offers.)

10G hardware will inevitably come down in price over time. However, both of these issues have relatively long lead times, which means that there is a (substantial) delay between when 10G hardware becomes cheap and when it starts driving demand for 10G infrastructure that can sensibly be met. Since 10G hardware is not cheap now and does not seem like it will be cheap in the near future, I feel safe in saying that 10G will not be a driver (or a risk) for hardware changes over the next three years.

(Note that this is a different issue than whether or not we would buy 10G hardware for fileservers that we were building from scratch. I certainly hope that in less than three years, 10G is cheap enough that we're putting it in new servers and switches. But that it's available as a nice feature isn't enough to force us into a significant hardware upgrade of our current fileservers.)

Written on 29 November 2010.
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Last modified: Mon Nov 29 00:41:43 2010
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