On the Horizon: 10Gb Ethernet

A boon technology that took LANs to the next level when it came on the scene more than 20 years ago, Ethernet is again poised to introduce significant increases in network speeds with the upcoming IEEE 802.3ae standard for 10 Gigabit (Gb) Ethernet. With a target date of March 2002 for the completed standard, industry watchers have already positioned 10Gb Ethernet as a technology that targets the enterprise and beyondto the Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) and Wide Area Network (WAN). As a LAN/MAN/WAN technology, 10Gb Ethernet is expected to be of interest to both enterprises and service providers.

A LAN is a network confined to a relatively small, local area–usually the building(s) occupied by a company in one place. A MAN, as its name suggests, is a network designed for a metropolitan area–a city or town. The largest type of network structure, the WAN, encompasses a large geographic area; a single WAN generally is made up of multiple LANs.

According to the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance, Newport Beach, Calif., the primary factor driving 10Gb Ethernet is the increase in Internet and intranet traffic. A number of factors contribute to this increase:

  • an increase in the number of network connections
  • an increase in the connection speed of each end-station
  • an increase in the deployment of bandwidth-intensive applications, such as video
  • an increase in Web hosting and application hosting traffic

With approximately 250,000 ports of 1Gb Ethernet shipped each month, according to Bruce Tolley, manager Emerging Technologies, Gigabit Systems Business Unit at Cisco Systems Inc., San Jose, Calif., and vice president of the 10Gb Ethernet Alliance, 10Gb Ethernet will serve as an aggregator in LAN applications. “We expect to see 10Gb Ethernet used between switches in a campus environment and, eventually, for storage applications,” he says.

With the amount of storage bits transported over the network expected to bypass that of normal data traffic, 10Gb Ethernet is projected to provide pipes fat enough to move enterprise storage across the network. “Storage vendors are looking at ways of connecting directly into the Ethernet environment,” says Duncan Potter, director of product marketing at Extreme Networks Inc., Santa Clara, Calif., noting that such an application can easily flood the network at today’s gigabit rates.

Increased Traffic, New Demand

Connecting Campuses

In the MAN/WAN application area, 10Gb Ethernet will enable ISPs and network service providers to create very high-speed links at a very low cost, between co-located, carrier-class switches and routers, according to the 10Gb Ethernet Alliance. Additionally, notes the Alliance, the technology will allow the construction of MANs and WANs that connect geographically dispersed LANs between campuses or points of presence.

“We expect that in the MAN market, 10Gb Ethernet will take a portion of the backbone away from SONET because it’s less expensive,” says Paul Strauss, research manager at International Data Corp. (IDC), Framingham, Mass. In fact, he notes, Ethernet is cheaper than SONET by as much as half to two-thirds. SONET, which was originally designed for voice applications, is a more complex technology, and the equipment is more expensive.

However, industry watchers predict that SONET and 10Gb Ethernet, two different technologies, will complement each other. “The technology of choice will depend on the business case of the service provider and what service is being delivered,” says Tolley. The 10Gb Ethernet standard specifies a means of connectivity to the SONET infrastructure. //

Lynn Haber writes on business and information technology from Norwell, Ma.

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