The Road to 100 Gigabit Ethernet

For most global enterprises, Ethernet is the technology that
connects everything and delivers bandwidth for all needs.

The highest bandwidth commercially available via Ethernet is 10
Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE), but a grassroots effort led by Force10
Networks is now hoping to improve that speed all the way up to 100
Gigabit or more.

100 GbE is seen by Force10 as something that will help meet the
future bandwidth needs of enterprises and could benefit a wide array of
industries, including cable and other carriers, as well as content

Don’t expect to see 100 GbE anytime soon, though; it’s likely not to
see the light of day until at least 2010.

Stephen Garrison, vice president of corporate marketing at Force10
Networks, said that 10 GbE took five years from start to finish to
become a standard. He expects that 100 GbE would take at least a
similar amount of time to become a full standard. It’s still very early
days for 100 GbE at this point.

“A group of companies have formed to approach the IEEE to get a vote
within the IEEE body to start a standard and that’s really where we
are,” Garrison told

The vote, if it happens, would occur at the earliest in July.

The process then to becoming a full standard is a long and drawn out
one that could take five or more years. Garrison explained that the
first part of the standard will look at technical and economic
feasibility, as well as LAN and WAN opportunities.

One thing that will be up for discussion is the actual speed. As
this is still a young effort, 100 GbE may or many not end up being the
final speed specified in the specification.

Through development studies conducted during the first year or so,
Garrison expects that they’ll be a shakeout on what the actual speed
should be — whether it’s 80 GbE, 100,120 or even 160 GbE.

“Force10 is a big believer that 100 Gig is the right step for
Ethernet, but that hasn’t been decided yet,” Garrison said.

on some initial surveys and research though, apparently there is a real
demand already for a higher bandwidth Ethernet. Some end users surveyed
by Force10 are already trunking 8 to 10, 10 GbE Ethernet pipes and big
data centers and carriers are already beginning to see bandwidth

Before becoming a standard 100 GbE will have to
overcome a variety of challenges. Not the least of which is cabling. If
enterprises need to lay down new cable to take advantage of 100 GbE it
may well prove to be a significant barrier to adoption.

“It’s way
too early to predict what kind of cable needs will be out there until
we do more homework,” Garrison said. “Though we’ll not necessarily have
to reinvent cable and laser-optic devices from the ground up, we’re
hoping to leverage the installed base if we can.”

Though not yet
officially supporting 100 GbE, the recently
formed Ethernet Alliance
is helping out a bit. The Ethernet
Alliance is a group of vendors that are supposed to help promote
adoption and deployment of Ethernet technologies.

Garrison noted
that the Ethernet Alliance has started a track called the High-speed
study group in which some of the grassroots work is happening. Among
that group, Garrison estimated that 70 percent of the systems vendors
agree with Force10’s assessment of the need for 100 GbE.

though it’s not yet a standard, 100 GbE already faces competition.
Infiniband is a low latency I/O interconnect that is already making
headway in supercomputing and enterprise
with current performance of 10 Gbps and a roadmap that
leads to 120 Gbps.

Garrison argued that users that care about
Infiniband typically have different usage requirements than Ethernet.

“People that care about Infiniband are looking at tightly coupled
synchronous models that require the compute nodes to share information
partially through the computation so it’s more real time,” Garrison

Though Infiniband currently has a significant advantage over
Ethernet in terms of latency, that advantage may not always be there.

“You’re going to see some things happen this year with Ethernet
latency really dramatically falling to the level of Infiniband,”
Garrison said.

“We think that the enterprise over time is going to
stick with Ethernet.”

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