IEEE group settles on faster Ethernet plans

A group has agreed to pursue an IEEE standard for both 40-gigabit and 100-gigabit Ethernet

A technical group working on the next generation of Ethernet has agreed to disagree and will now work on a single standard that covers both 40G bps (bit-per-second) and 100G bps speeds.

The Higher Speed Study Group (HSSG), part of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), made the decision last week at its meeting in San Francisco after months of debate between backers of the two speeds. If the IEEE approves the move late this year as expected, a standard may be completed by mid-2010, said John D'Ambrosia, chair of the HSSG.

Ethernet has sped up by a multiple of ten several times, from 10M bps to 100M bps and ultimately from 1G bps to 10G bps, the current fastest version. Some HSSG members backed a similar boost this time and that 100G bps plan appeared to have won out late last year. But others pushed for a 40G bps standard.

Different applications were at the heart of the disagreement, according to D'Ambrosia. The need for speed is growing everywhere, but at different rates. While the data output of servers doubles roughly every 24 months, the amount of traffic on carrier networks is doubling every 18 months, according to D'Ambrosia. Members more interested in faster server-to-switch applications pushed for a 40G bps goal, while those aiming at network aggregation and backbones favored 100G bps. The higher speed means more expensive and power-hungry equipment.

"I wouldn't say there was a fight. I would say there was an education going on and it got heated at times," D'Ambrosia said.

Now a single standard, to be called IEEE 802.3ba, will include specifications for both speeds. Each will offer a selection of physical interfaces: There will be specifications for 40G bps links up to 1 meter long for switch backplanes, 10 meters for copper cable and 100 meters for multimode fiber. For 100G bps, the group will standardize 10-meter copper links, 100-meter multimode fiber links and 10-kilometer and 40-kilometer distances on single-mode fiber.

It's the first time an Ethernet standards task group has pursued two speeds in one standard, according to D'Ambrosia. "One size doesn't fit all, in this case," he said.

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