Controversy threatens 100G standards work

IEEE debate threatens to stall work on a 100Gbps Ethernet standard

A debate within the IEEE threatens to stall work on a 100Gbps Ethernet standard and the very existence of the working group defining it.

Participants in the Higher Speed Study Group (HSSG) within the IEEE are divided on whether to include 40G Ethernet as part of their charter or stay the course with 100G. Proponents for 40G argue that it is a necessary, simple and cost-effective step that has broad market potential; opponents say it will unnecessarily bog down progress on 100G which, they claim, also has broad market potential addressing different applications -- aggregation and long-haul vs. server interconnect.

Seven months ago, HSSG's focus seemed like a done deal. But in January, 40G proponents became more vocal.

Now, the integrity of HSSG itself is threatened by the row. The group's future hinges on a meeting next month in San Francisco where HSSG leaders will attempt to build consensus among members on the 40G/100G issue.

Lack of consensus means the IEEE could dissolve the group.

"All must work together to drive towards a consensus position or the future of this group is clearly in doubt," stated HSSG Chair John D'Ambrosia last week in an e-mail on the reflector. D'Ambrosia is also a components technology scientist at Force10 Networks.

The spat has led to some name-calling on the HSSG e-mail reflector, with 100G proponents tagging 40G advocates as a "super-minority" bent on holding 100G work "hostage" to further its agenda while confusing the market; and 40G proponents identifying 100G counterparts as "totalitarians."

"This is the HSSG project, not the 100GE project," quipped one 40G advocate endorsing its inclusion in the group's 100G work.

The mud-slinging prompted a warning from D'Ambrosia that any e-mail other than those pertaining to "official business" could get the sender unsubscribed from the reflector.

D'Ambrosia says the interaction is part of the IEEE "consensus building" process.

"It's all very natural," he says. "You've got to understand each others' viewpoints in order to move forward. I think that's a lot of what we're seeing happen over the past couple of months.

"Given the passion people are feeling for this, some are letting that get the best of them at times," D'Ambrosia says. "Having been happily married for 16 years, I've had my share of fights as well."

At the July meeting, D'Ambrosia hopes HSSG comes to a consensus decision on whether to include 40G with its 100G work, or allow 40G standardization to evolve on its own.

"We've got to adopt a 40G objective and related objectives, and then we have to figure out how that moves forward," D'Ambrosia says. "There has to be progress made."

Others are anxious to sideline differences and focus on the task at hand.

"I urge everyone to put away their Robert Ludlum spy novels and re-enter the relatively boring engineering world of standards and focus on how to solve a problem," wrote another HSSG participant in the reflector.

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Jim Duffy

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