While you can now buy 10GBase-T server NICs - in theory at least - Chelsio's president and CEO Kianoosh Naghshineh acknowledges that there's not a lot to plug the other end of your 10GBase-T cable into as yet.

He said he expects compatible switches to reach the market by March though, and adds: "The other significant factor is that our cards are dual-speed and auto-negotiating, so you can also use them with a Gigabit switch. That decouples the server upgrade from the infrastructure upgrade. Over time we'll probably go to triple-speed, with 100Gig as well."

The new cards are also intended to be triple-function, in particular the iSCSI-capable S310 models. The aim is to converge server, storage and processor networking onto a single medium, namely 10Gig Ethernet.

"Data centres today typically have three networks - LAN, SAN and high-performance computing," says Naghshineh. "The vision of a single network has been sought after for several years. You will see people convert from Fibre Channel to Ethernet, and from InfiniBand and Myrinet to Ethernet - the benefits of the converged model include ROI and TCO."

There is still work to be done, of course. Naghshineh says that putting the various network protocols into hardware has solved many of the former issues, such as Ethernet having higher latency than the likes of InfiniBand, but he acknowledges that power consumption is still a concern - as is pricing.

"In technical HPC (high performance computing), InfiniBand has a lot of traction, there's many nodes but they're cheap nodes," he says. "On storage, as long as you replace Fibre Channel that's all you have to do. Fibre Channel is still expensive because it doesn't have the scale of Ethernet."

Chelsio's 10GBase-T cards are priced the same as its 10GBase-SR fibre versions. That's not because the Teranetics PHY is expensive, he claims, but because the fibre versions were relatively cheap, thanks to them using fixed optics instead of swappable modules.

He admits that CX4 copper 10Gig NICs are cheaper still, but says that 10GBase-T scores over CX4 in several areas - the cabling is cheaper, it's easier to run because of the bend radius, and its range is longer than the 15m reach of CX4.

"The power is still fairly high," he says, adding that Chelsio has "dialled down" the range of its new cards to between 35m and 50m, in order to keep their power consumption just under the 25W-per-slot limit imposed by the PCI-Express spec. He says that the next generation of PHYs will draw fewer Watts, enabling a PCIe card to reach the 100m range listed in the 10GBase-T spec.

"The magic number is 30m, that's when Ethernet originally took off," he says. "CX4 is for within a cage or chassis."

The SR version is capable of over a kilometre at even lower power consumption though, and Naghshineh says it is still not clear which 10Gig connection will win out in the long term.

"We know for sure there will be CX4 and fibre infrastructure products by the second half of this year, but we need 10Gig switches to appear with high enough density and low enough port price," he says.