100 Gigabit Ethernet: Bridge to Terabit Ethernet

40 Gigabit and 100 Gigabit Ethernet products to ship by year-end; terabit speeds anticipated by 2015

IT managers who are getting started with -- or even pushing the limits of -- 10 Gigabit Ethernet in their LANs and data centers won't have to wait long for higher speed connectivity.

Podcast: Pushing Beyond 100 Gigabit Ethernet
Slideshow: The evolution of Ethernet

Pre-standard 40 Gigabit and 100 Gigabit Ethernet products -- server network interface cards, switch uplinks and switches -- are expected to hit the market later this year. And standards-compliant products are expected to ship in the second half of next year, not long after the expected June 2010 ratification of the 802.3ba standard.

The IEEE, which began work on the standard in late 2006, is expected to define two different speeds of Ethernet for two different applications: 40G for server connectivity and 100G for core switching.

Despite the global economic slowdown, global revenue for 10G fixed Ethernet switches doubled in 2008, according to Infonetics. And there is pent-up demand for 40 Gigabit and 100 Gigabit Ethernet, says John D'Ambrosia, chair of the 802.3ba task force in the IEEE and a senior research scientist at Force10 Networks.

"There are a number of people already who are using link aggregation to try and create pipes of that capacity," he says. "It's not the cleanest way to do things...(but) people already need that capacity."

D'Ambrosia says even though 40/100G Ethernet products haven't arrived yet, he's already thinking ahead to Terabit Ethernet standards and products by 2015. "We are going to see a call for a higher speed much sooner than we saw the call for this generation" of 10/40/100G Ethernet, he says.

According to the 802.3ba task force, bandwidth requirements for computing and core networking applications are growing at different rates, which necessitates the definition of two distinct data rates for the next generation of Ethernet. Servers, high performance computing clusters, blade servers, storage-area networks and network-attached storage all currently make use of 1G and 10G Ethernet, with 10G growing significantly in 2007 and 2008.

I/O bandwidth projections for server and computing applications, including server traffic aggregation, indicate that there will be a significant market potential for a 40G Ethernet interface, according to the task force. Ethernet at 40G will provide approximately the same cost balance between the LAN and the attached stations as 10G Ethernet, the task force believes.

Core networking applications have demonstrated the need for bandwidth beyond existing capabilities and beyond the projected bandwidth requirements for computing applications. Switching, routing, and aggregation in data centers, internet exchanges
and service provider peering points, and high bandwidth applications such as video on demand and high performance computing, need a 100 Gigabit Ethernet interface, according to the task force.

"Initial applications (of 40/100G Ethernet) are already showing up, in stacking and highly aggregated LAN links, but the port counts are low," says George Zimmerman, CTO of SolarFlare, a maker of Ethernet physical layer devices.

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