But does it go to 11? 10-gigabit networks are real, if rare

It wasn’t exactly driving the golden spike into the ground, but July 28, 2005, marked the final link in a coast-to-coast 10-gigabit/second network running between the University of California, San Diego and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. I remember the day well, because everyone in the lab paused to think of all the wonderful applications that could occur if 10-gigabit/sec networks became a reality.

It really wasn’t too big of a dream. The first nationwide network running at that speed was supposedly cobbled together by AT&T back in 2001, although it was hardly mainstream.

For years, the GCN lab has gotten by with the standard 10/100-megabits/sec network that remains the standard used by most government agencies today. During our somewhat less hectic December downtime, we plan to undertake a massive project to upgrade the infrastructure into a gigabit network. In the our roundup review on desktop PCs, several of them shipped with gigabit ports as part of the standard loadout, and these were dual-core systems soon to be replaced by the new quad core designs.

The advantage to gigabit ports is, if you happen to have a network that can support them, you get the extra speed. Otherwise, the ports downscale back to 10/100. This move will let us test about 99 percent of the products on the market today, and we sure will be proud when we drive the final golden switch into place.

However, GCN Editor-in-Chief Wyatt Kash recently sent me a press release from nPulse Network Systems that announced the availability of the HammerHead 10Gbps Capture and Replay system. Yes, that is 10 gigabits/sec, which is 10 times faster than the little gigabit network that we haven’t even gotten around to building.

The HammerHead is a testing tool to help administrators and network planners look at the packets flying around on their 10-gigabit/sec networks. There is so much data that it’s almost impossible to capture it all in real time at that speed, much less analyze anything. So the device records the traffic and lets you examine it later however you'd like, kind of like playing a movie back in slow motion.

That’s impressive, but it really got me thinking that if testing tools were being created, someone must be using 10-gigabit/sec networks somewhere. It turns out that a few government agencies do use them for specialized computing functions or tasks, but only on a small scale. And the Energy Department's Energy Sciences Network, which is used for scientific research and rides on Internet 2, has a 100 gigabit/sec backbone, but that bandwidth is achieved by aggregating multiple 10 gigabits/sec optical links. Almost everyone in the rank-an- file is still on 10/100 networks. And for home use, it’s almost completely unheard of to go even at gigabit speed. High-end fiber might get you 50 megabits/sec at home, not even close to 10-gigabit/sec speed.

So I’m not sure the HammerHead can find much of a market outside of perhaps telecom companies and very specific networks, but it does keep the dream of really fast Internet alive. And if we ever do get to that speed in the mainstream, believe me, everything will change.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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