Ratified in 2006, 10GBASE-T is the standard to provide 10Gbqs connections over balanced twisted-pair copper, including Category 6A unshielded and shielded cabling. It provides great flexibility in network design due to its 100-meter reach capability. An immediate use for 10GBASE-T is to build the data center access-layer network that connects servers to access switches. But is it the best options for 10G data center? Understanding this requires an examination of the pros and cons of current 10GbE media options.
10GBASE-CX4 was the first favorite for 10GbE deployments, however its adoption was limited by the bulky and expensive cables, and its reach is limited to 15 meters. The large size of the CX4 connector prohibited higher switch densities required for large scale deployment. Larger diameter cables like 10GBASE-CX4 are purchased in fixed lengths resulting in challenges to manage cable slack. As a result, pathways and spaces may not be sufficient to handle this larger cable.
SFP+’s support for both fiber optic cables and DAC which makes it a better solution than CX4. SFP+ is commonly used for 10G today, but it has limitations that will prevent itself from moving to every server. The following image shows a SFP+ nodule, SFP+ DAC cable and a 10GBASE-T SFP+ port media converter.
10GBASE-SR—10GBASE-SR (SFP+ fiber) fiber is great for its low latency and longer distance (up to 300 meters), but it is expensive. SFP+ fiber offers low power consumption, but the cost of laying fiber networking everywhere in the data center is prohibitive. The SFP+ fiber electronics can be four to five times more expensive than their copper counterparts, meaning that ongoing active maintenance, typically based on original equipment purchase price, is much more expensive. In addition, replacing a copper connection that is readily available in a server to fiber creates the need to purchase not only the fiber switch port, but also a fiber NIC for the server. EX-SFP-10GE-SR is compatible Juniper SFP+ transceiver that requires a OM3 cable to realize its 10G connectivity, which is an indispensable component for a 10G network.
10GBASE-SFP+ DAC—DAC is a lower cost alternative to fiber, but it can only reach 7 meters and it is not backward-compatible with existing GbE switches. Take MA-CBL-TA-1M as an example, it is designed to cover a distance of 1m for 10G connectivity. The DAC cables are much more expensive than structured copper channels, and cannot be field terminated. This makes DAC more expensive than 10GBASE-T. The adoption rate of DAC will be low since it does not have the flexibility and reach of 10GBASE-T.
The major benefit of 10GBASE-T is that it offers the most flexibility, the lowest cost media, and is backward-compatible with existing 1GbE networks. Like all BASE-T implementations, 10GBASE-T covers a lengths up to 100 meters, which gives network designers a far greater level of flexibility in connecting devices in the data center and the most flexibility in server placement since it will work with existing structured cabling systems. For higher grade cabling plants (category 6A and above), 10GBASE-T operates in low power mode on channels under 30 m. This means a further power savings per port over the longer 100m mode. And because 10GBASE-T is backward-compatible with 1000BASE-T, it can be deployed in existing 1GbE switch infrastructures in data centers that are cabled with CAT6 and CAT6A (or above) cabling, enabling network designers to keep costs down while offering an easy migration path to 10GbE.
One challenge with 10GBASE-T is that the early physical layer interface chips (PHYs) consumed too much power for widespread adoption. But there comes a good news with 10GBASE-T is that the PHYs benefit greatly from the latest manufacturing processes. The newer process technologies will reduce both the power and cost of the latest 10GBASE-T PHYs. The latest 10GBASE-T adapters require only 10 W per port. Further improvements will reduce power even more. In 2011, power dropped below 6 W per port, making 10GBASE-T suitable for motherboard integration and high-density switches.
Of all the media options offered above, 10GBASE-T breaks through important cost and power consumption barriers in 10GbE deployment as well as its backwards compatibility with 1GbE networks. Deployment on 10GBASE-T will simplify data center infrastructures, making it easier to manage server connectivity while delivering the bandwidth needed for heavily virtualized servers and I/O-intensive applications. I must say, 10GBASE-T will be the best option for 10GbE data center cabling in the near future.