The IEEE has approved a new standard for providing 10 Gigabit Ethernet over copper, opening the way for short-reach, high-speed data center links that are more affordable to enterprises.

The 802.3ak standard will be implemented as 10GBASE-CX4, providing 10Gbit/s over dual twinaxial cables, similar to the cabling used in Infiniband networking. This is the first copper Ethernet standard not to use category 5/6 cabling technology.

"The new standard provides an economical way for Ethernet switches and server clusters, located within 15 meters of each other in equipment rooms and data centers, to be interconnected at 10Gbit/s," said the IEEE in a statement.

Observers say that 10GBASE-CX4 ports will be more affordable to enterprises than current fiber-based 10G ports, which average around $10,000 per port, according to the Dell’Oro Group.

"We expect installation costs for copper 10GBASE-CX4 interconnections to be one-tenth that of comparable 10GBASE-optical solutions," said Dan Dove, chair of the 802.3ak task force and principal engineer of HP's ProCurve Networking Business.

"The availability of 10GBASE-CX4 copper-based interface should accelerate the deployment of 10 Gigabit Ethernet," said Bob Grow, chair of the 802.3 working group and a principal architect at Intel.

The 10 Gigabit Ethernet was originally designed as a long-haul carrier technology, specifically for replacing SONET OC192 in metro area networks with Ethernet. However, as enterprises began showing interests in 10G, and carriers cut back spending during the telecom bust, interest began to grow in a short-haul version of 10 Gigabit for switch-to-switch interconnects.