Don't take Gigabit Ethernet to the desktop: analyst

Mike Fabbi, Gartner's head of enterprise network infrastructure research, says fat pipes for everyone is a bad idea - he tells Phil Hochmuth why

Why is Gigabit Ethernet spending being wasted in the enterprise? Is it because of a lack of applications that require 1,000Mbit/s?

There are no typical business apps that need [Gigabit Ethernet] on the desktop. We have identified a number of apps where Gigabit Ethernet is warranted to increase productivity. Examples include video production, GIS, scientific research, CAD, medical imaging and PACS (picture archiving and communications systems).

A common criteria across these is that they all involve large files — a minimum of 100MB, but more likely 500MB-plus. For the other 90% of us extra bandwidth is completely unwarranted. If you think about it, an increasing number of employees are working remotely, from home, on the road, using wi-fi, and they are generally not inconvenienced by less bandwidth. If we can work with little (or no) problems at the end of a DSL link, why do you need 1,000 times the bandwidth if you work in an office?

Then why do you think network managers are buying GigE if they don’t need it?

Companies have continued to follow their past thought and design processes. Speeds and feeds used to be important at the edge of the network, but we now have enough and need to turn to some other areas of investment. Vendors have been pushing GigE very strongly and too many organisations just follow the recommendations of their vendors.

Pricing for Gigabit Ethernet — copper-based GigE, especially — has dropped dramatically over the last several years. Could this be a factor in why users are spending on the technology?

We are seeing some vendors attempt to make GbE more economically viable. I’d point to HP, Foundry and Nortel, all of which have 10/100/1,000 switches with PoE (power over ethernet) at roughly half the price of Cisco’s equivalent (and equal or less that Cisco’s 10/100 PoE products). While this is a good move and I encourage this approach, I would still tend to recommend looking at 10/100 PoE products are part of the evaluation.

If users are over-engineering the LAN, where should they be spending their IT dollars?

On the LAN, enterprises really need a reason not to buy PoE, so buying 10/100 + PoE is a much better investment than 10/100/1,000. Other areas of spend would be in improving application performance, such as better WAN solutions, application delivery controllers, improved access solutions and then, outside the networking organisation, improving the deployment time of new applications that will have direct impact on user productivity. Finally, some of the savings can be returned to the bottom line for the private sector or to the taxpayers in the public sector.

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