Faster than Gigabit on a budget

For some time now Gigabit has been the de-facto speed for networking equipment. The days of vendors getting away with selling Gigabit at premium is mostly gone. The only real exception to that seems to be Cisco, who inside on providing Fast Ethernet (100Mb) ports on many of their devices and charging a premium for Gigabit.

Ten Gigabit is becoming more widely available in enterprise environments, but comes at a cost that is out of reach of many home labs and those on a tight budget. Depending on what you need to achieve there are low-cost options for getting your feet wet with 10Gb or faster.

Those on a tight budget are likely to consider LACP to aggregate multiple GbE connections in order to provide more available bandwidth. Unfortunately this isn’t always suitable, especially so if you need a single connection to consume much of the bandwidth. Thankfully assuming you only need to connect two hosts together there is a better way.

The most cost effective option will depend on what is available in your country. eBay lists everything I mention below and most sellers are open to “Best Offers” allowing you to haggle over price. There are two basic options:

  • Mellanox Infiniband ConnectX-2 adapters provide 40Gb/s and are a cheap option at circa $40 USD per NIC. A cable will cost about another $35 USD. Two directly connected hosts will result in a total expenditure of about $115 USD.
  • Brocade 1020 CNA (Converged Network Adapters) adapters provide 10Gb/s and can be had for $35 USA per NIC. A cable with cost about another $30 USD. Two directly connected hosts will result in a total expenditure of about $100 USD.

Mellanox Infiniband ConnectX-2 (10Gb/40Gb)

For 10GB/s Infiniband the single-port Mellanox MHQH19B cards are the most cost effective option. If you’re after even more speed the Mellanox MHQH29B cards will take you to 40Gb/s.

In terms of cabling it’s best to stick to known working cables, the Mellanox QSFP MC2206130-001 cable is a low-cost compatible option.

Directly connecting more than two devices will increase cost significantly, the most cost effective 40GBps InfiniBand switch I can find is the “Mellanox Voltaire GridDirector 4036” at around $900 USD.

Brocade 1020 Converged Network Adapter (10Gb)

The Brocade 1020 cards provide 10Gb/s connectivity using either SFP+ modules and fiber or a directly attached cable of up to 5m.

If you need a cable length of greater than 5m then buying the SFP+ modules is your only option. Unfortunately these adapters will only accept Brocade branded SFP’s, though re-branded SFP’s by the likes of HP or Dell may work.

Directly attached cables consist of fixed SFP’s and cable as one item, these adapters will only accept a Brocade branded Twinax cable. Thankfully a compatible cable, the Brocade 58-1000027-01, is cheap and widely available.

Summary

There are a number of low-cost options available, the Brocade CNA’s seem to have the greatest operating system support at the trade-off of increased cost should you need to connect more than two devices together. Companies like Zyxel and D-Link are starting to provide some lower-cost 10Gb switches which may be worth considering.

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Dave Hope

Dave is a Principal Software Analyst for a UK based retirement developer, in his spare time he enjoys digital photography and rock climbing.

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