IEEE seeks data on Ethernet bandwidth needs

The ad hoc group's findings could lead to a push for Terabit Ethernet

The IEEE has formed a group to assess demand for a faster form of Ethernet, taking the first step toward what could become a Terabit Ethernet standard.

The group, which goes by the unwieldy name "IEEE 802.3 Industry Connections Ethernet Bandwidth Assessment Ad Hoc," has posted a public request for input on traffic growth trends, bandwidth use in individual data centers and any other information that could help to answer the question of where the Ethernet standard needs to go from here. It won't make any recommendations or start an initiative for a new standard, only gather input and summarize it in a report expected next year.

Information about demand for the current fastest Ethernet specification, which spans both 40G bps (bits per second) and 100G bps, was collected by individual companies and engineers before the IEEE formed the group that developed the standard, said John D'Ambrosia, chairman of the new ad hoc group. He believes this is the first time the IEEE 802.3 organization, which oversees Ethernet, has created a formal data-gathering project.

"We all contacted people privately" around 2005 to gauge the need for a faster specification, D'Ambrosia said. "We only got, like, seven data points."

Disagreement about speeds complicated the process of developing the current standard, called 802.3ab. Though carriers and aggregation switch vendors agreed the IEEE should pursue a 100G bps speed, server vendors said they wouldn't need adapters that fast until years later. They wanted a 40G bps standard, and it emerged later that there was also some demand for 40G bps among switch makers, D'Ambrosia said.

"I don't want to get blindsided by not understanding bandwidth trends again," D'Ambrosia said.

The ad hoc group hopes to gather a much broader set of data before the next high-speed standards effort begins. The call for input, released April 15, is expected to play a key role in this. The group has also been asking participants from individual industries for their input. The first business stepping up to participate is the financial services industry, according to D'Ambrosia. Andrew Bach, the networking chief at NYSE Euronext stock exchange, who has already forecast a need for 1T bps Ethernet, and others will contribute information, he said.

This time around, the information gathered may help the next high-speed Ethernet group decide whether to aim for 1T bps or 400G bps. Though any new standard takes years to develop, there are much more significant challenges involved in achieving Terabit Ethernet than there are in 400G bps, said D'Ambrosia, who is also the chief Ethernet evangelist at switch vendor Force10 Networks. Some of those challenges were laid out at the Ethernet Technology Summit held earlier this year in Santa Clara, California.

The ad hoc group has met a few times since late February to work out logistical issues but was formally announced on Monday. It plans to spend the first half of this year organizing its efforts and the second half of the year gathering data, and then aims to issue a report in the first half of next year.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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