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The future of the network: switch to 100G

The switch to 100G is happening at a fast pace and soon it will be the go-to speed for networks. It is of course no secret that speed makes a noticeable difference for your network. As a result, 100G will soon become a necessity for many organizations in the future.

However, before you immediately start changing your company's networking capabilities, there are a few things to keep in mind because increasing network speed is more than just pushing more bits over a wire. Some top tips are set out below to ensure that the switch is as effortless as possible.

Determine what you really need

First and foremost: you have to decide what speed you really need for your future network. A single 100G connection can be subdivided into four channels or lanes of 25G each. This is why 100G networks are sometimes called 25G / 100G. Normally this means that you make 100G connections between your switches and 25G to your servers.

If you are thinking about jumping from 10G to 40G to the server, 25G is probably the better choice. A single 100G port can be split into 2x50G links, allowing you to connect two servers of 50G each. This way you can connect the same number of servers, get more bandwidth and use fewer ports. It is a win-win! This is compared to 40G to two servers instead. You should use two switch ports instead of one, and you would still get less bandwidth.

What you should also pay attention to is the accurate synchronization of clocks between systems, which is especially important when moving from 10G to 40G or 100G. When obtaining switches from different suppliers (which are discussed in more detail below), having clock problems can increase latency and packet loss.

The bottom line: use 25G / 100G where you need more bandwidth and more flexibility in the rack. Stay at 10G / 40G where you have the capacity to make extra connections without having to buy more switches.

Know your reach

The distances at which you can get 100G do not differ that much from 10G / 40G. But there is more to keep in mind than just distance. If you need wide-range optics, some switches limit you to specific ports. Some switches also limit how many 100G ports you can break out in 4x25G or 2x50G connections. These limitations can affect the density that you can realistically achieve.

The range of optics is a big consideration to make, because it can essentially lead to a rewiring of your network, depending on what you already have. That would of course be expensive and disruptive for your company. Because 100G is a whole new ball game, you have a new generation of optics and cables that you will have to deal with.

Making sure you understand what you need to change, or what you already have, can make a big difference, not only the time it takes to set up the new network, but also how far you have to dig into your pockets to get it infrastructure law.

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Make sure your switches are compatible

To support your 10G / 40G connections, your new leaf switches must support your existing QSFP + (quad (4-channel) small form-factor pluggable) and SFP + (small form-factor pluggable transceiver) modules.

When searching for new leaf switches – used in data centers to collect traffic from server nodes – look for switches that accept the QSFP28 form factor, which is physically able to use existing QSFP + modules. If you have SFP + modules that you want to use, make sure that your new switches also accept the SFP28 form factor.

You must ensure that your switches have sufficient QSFP28 and SFP48 and can perform 10G / 40G before making the change.

The problem with early models

There is a potential bump on the road, and what you need to know is that many 100G switches came out before the current 25G / 100G standards were ratified in 2016. As a result, the switches do not always work together, and the point above on the same supplier switches comes into play here. This means that for hardware upgraded on the road, you may notice that the early models are not compatible with newer switches.

The best advice here is to stay away from switches that were released before the current 25G / 100G standards were adopted to save you a potential headache later.

If you are considering switching to 100G, you must ultimately ensure that you know what you really need before you overhaul your entire system. As with any network changes, there are some pre-checks that you must do: do you have the options and what range do you have (and what do you need); and finally ensure that your switches are compatible with any changes. By following these steps, you can effortlessly switch to 100G and bring your network up to speed – both figuratively and literally.

Pete Lumbis is a Technical Marketing Engineer at Cumulus Networks.

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