Working in today’s office looks dramatically different than a decade ago. Where once we used PowerPoint presentations we now create video for upload to YouTube or Vimeo. We now use Slack instead of email, video conferencing instead of phone calls, and share data stored on servers. We’ve witnessed dramatic improvements in CPU and GPU performance as well as substantial increases in screen resolutions.
Yet our network infrastructure still runs technology first launched in the previous century. Gigabit Ethernet arrived on the scene in 1999. While bandwidth between servers has improved tenfold or more, the PCs out in the office still connect via one gigabit per second connections, often forcing users to wait while loading server-side applications or render video to remote drives. The gigabit bottleneck has become a productivity issue.
Maybe it’s time to bring back the NIC. Modern PCs all include integrated gigabit Ethernet controllers. Back in the early 21st century, users wanting gigabit Ethernet performance needed to install gigabit NICs in their PCs. Network interface cards – NICs – allow users and IT staff to upgrade network performance without breaking the bank. Most companies and wired homes are built out using CAT5e or CAT6 twisted pair cable. 5GBASE-T and 2.5GBASE-T based on NBASE-T technology allows dramatic increase in network bandwidth using CAT5e copper wire.
Installing those old gigabit cards over a decade ago had to deal with less powerful CPUs and interrupt schemes that were not optimized. Modern PC platforms have no such issues. Just plug a card into a free PCI Express slot, install the drivers, and you’re off and running with CPUs capable of handling 5Gbps and 10Gbps data-rates effortlessly.
At the other end, these NICs have to connect to an appropriate NBASE-T switch. The cost of upgrading gigabit switches to NBASE-T switches is easily offset by the increased user productivity. Plus, NBASE-T switches generally cost lower than their 10-gigabit equivalent. An eight-port NBASE-T switch costs roughly $600, with NICs going for about $70, which translates to $100 per user. However, you won’t have to incur the cost of replacing existing copper wiring, which can cost more than the sum total of the new switches and NICs.
With each user getting double the transfer rate, wait times reduce substantially. Given the long lifetimes of switches and NICs, it’s likely users will be benefitting for years, which substantially mitigates the cost relative to the increased productivity.
What about wireless? WiFi offers great convenience at the expense of system management headaches. Range becomes an issue as well as bandwidth drops while people walk further from access points. WiFi may be the only solution for laptop and tablet users, though external docking stations with PCI Express slots are making a comeback. Once wired, users have consistent access to double or more the bandwidth with no worries about shared connections cutting into network performance.
Consider NBASE-T NICs and switches as a way to gain massive bandwidth increases at a modest cost using existing copper infrastructure. The modern office and home demands more network power, and NBASE-T is poised to deliver more bandwidth reliably. End the user wait.