Gartner analyst: Resist Gig Ethernet

Is Gigabit Ethernet a waste of your money?

An analyst recently told enterprise IT and network professionals they would toss away more than US$10 billion on Gigabit Ethernet LAN gear over the next two years that would be better spent on technologies designed to support increasingly distributed workforces.

“The majority of network designers continue to be caught in traditional design practices,” said Mark Fabbi, Gartner vice-president and distinguished analyst, speaking at the company’s Symposium/ITxpo in San Francisco. “They continue to spend money on bigger and faster core networking technologies at their headquarters and large locations that don’t actually serve the user population.”

Fabbi’s claim is something of a new twist on the old “throw bandwidth at the problem vs. using QoS and other techniques to fit bandwidth to application demands” debate. The analyst argued that most corporate applications — even videoconferencing and VoIP — do not require more than a few hundred kilobits per second of bandwidth.

“Astute network managers will focus their attention on the upper layers of the stack, and look to security, data control, application optimization and mobility services as key features that will benefit the organization far more than installing Gigabit Ethernet for all desktops,” Fabbi said.

An industry trend Fabbi is addressing is the ubiquity of 10/100/1000Mbps switch equipment from 3Com, Cisco, Extreme, Nortel and others. Most new modular and stackable switch products released for enterprise-class networks in the past year are based on triple-speed ports, which autonegotiate links based on the connection speed of clients that are also going overwhelmingly Gigabit. Built-in 10/100/1000 interface cards are now standard features on many PCs from Dell, HP and others.

But from a cost standpoint, the question of whether to go Gigabit is complex. Application usage, the form factor of the products and the medium of the wiring all contribute to the cost of the technology and the decision to use it, analysts and users say.

In spite of popular beliefs caused by dramatic price reductions in the last few years, “Gigabit Ethernet is not free,” says Seamus Crehan, an analyst with the Dell’Oro Group. “Gigabit Ethernet still has a very significant price premium over Fast Ethernet, but you have to break down the market a little.”

Averaging out the entire industry, the cost of a Gigabit port was 80 per cent to 300 per cent the price of a Fast Ethernet port in 2005. But considerations must be made on switch form factor, such as chassis-based or stack

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