Faster 40 and 100 Gigabit Ethernet Standard Now Real

Ethernet takes a 10x leap forward as new standards are approved, though interoperability testing is still on the horizon.

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Jun 21, 2010
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Ethernet is set for a major speed boost thanks to the approval of the IEEE P802.3ba standard for 40 and 100 Gigabit Ethernet (40 GbE and 100 GbE). The new standard will provide Ethernet users with significant performance gains over the previous top-end of Ethernet speeds which was 10 GbE.

The IEEE P802.3ba standard is the culmination of several years of effort which kicked off in July of 2007. At that time, the IEEE 802.3 Higher Speed Study Group (HSSG) decided to develop a standard for both 40 GbE and 100 GbE. The new Ethernet speed standard come as the demand for bandwidth continues to grow with both service providers and enterprises requiring increasing Internet connectivity capacity.

"This is one of the first times that we have seen a standard incorporate two speeds like this, Blaine Kohl, chief marketing officer of the Ethernet Alliance, told InternetNews.com. "There is a requirement for both of those speeds as they each address a different part of the market."

Kohl noted that 40 GbE is something that was driven by server-side needs, while 100 GbE has been driven by core networking and service provider needs.

Multiple vendors have been racing to have their own 100 GbE and 40 GbE products available to meet the expected demand. As early as 2008, vendors were already demonstrating early pre-standard 100 GbE equipment. Big networking vendors including Juniper and Alcatel-Lucent, for example, have already announced their respective 100 GbE plans.

While the IEEE P802.3ba standard has now been ratified, Kohl said interoperability across different vendor solutions has yet to be completed.

"We need to start bringing vendors together," Kohl said. "So that's where Ethernet Alliance plays a key role in that process as we provide a neutral ground that is unbiased."

The Ethernet Alliance is an industry association of Ethernet vendors that helps to promote the Ethernet industry as well as vendor interoperability. Back in 2009, the Alliance also announced its intention to provide 40/100 GbE certification, but Kohl said that effort has, for now, been deferred.

"Last year was a pretty tough year in terms of the economy, so we just decided that it wasn't the right time to kick off an effort like that," Kohl said. "It doesn't mean it's dead, it's just kind of temporarily shelved right now."

That said, the Ethernet Alliance will be trying to help its vendor membership move to 40 and 100 GbE adoption.

"The next key milestone for us is showing that vendors have products that will interoperate with each other," Kohl said. "That's still the missing piece in the equation."

Terabit Ethernet

With 100 GbE now the top-end of Ethernet speeds, the Ethernet Alliance is now also beginning to set its sites on the next big speed jump -- Terabit Ethernet.

"We're having a lot of discussions around Terabit Ethernet," Kohl said. "We've had several Ethernet Alliance hosted technology exploration forums and organizations like the New York Stock Exchange and Facebook have come to us and said they absolutely need to see Terabit Ethernet. "

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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