Ethernet at 35

Ethernet turns 35 years old, and a look back at its 25th birthday

Ethernet turned 35 last week. The official birth date of Ethernet is generally regarded as May 22, 1973, the date of a memo penned by Bob Metcalfe that laid out the basic concepts of Ethernet. To mark the occasion, I thought it might be fun to look back at another anniversary milestone.

Ten years ago, Network World celebrated the 25th birthday of Ethernet by talking to several big names in the networking world, including Metcalfe and Vint Cerf.

Back in 1998, the buzz was that "Gigabit Ethernet has been kicking ATM's butt," as Metcalfe put it. It was becoming clear that Ethernet was knocking down many other networking technologies, and after 25 years it was entering a period of dominance that continues today.

Speedwise, Metcalfe called an eventual move to Terabit Ethernet an "easy prediction," and it still is, though we're not quite there yet. Cerf said terabit speeds might be possible by 2023, or sooner.

At the time, 10 Gigabit Ethernet was being discussed. Scott Bradner said he did not expect to see 10 Gigabit Ethernet on copper twisted pair wiring "anytime soon" - it took eight years after that statement to get to a standard.

Metcalfe said the key challenge facing Ethernet was getting into the home. Since then, it has gotten into homes, but the vehicle has been wireless LAN technology rather than wires.

FORE Systems CEO Eric Cooper said that the biggest challenge to Ethernet was its 1,500-byte frame size, which he called a "brick-wall impediment to high performance." It turned out to be not so much of a brick wall after all. Although some use proprietary jumbo frames to increase performance, other advances have allowed Ethernet speed increases to continue to move the needle on overall performance.

One interesting question asked in the 1998 article was: "Will Ethernet have a 50th birthday, or will it be just a memory by the year 2023?"

The respondents said that Ethernet would exist then, but they were unsure what form it would take. After all, in the first 25 years, Ethernet changed - leaving behind the CSMA/CD technology of its roots, cranking up the speed and embracing switching.

Now, there are only 15 years to go before the 50th anniversary of Ethernet arrives. What form do you think it will take? What changes will we see before then?

Oh - and Happy Birthday, Ethernet!

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Jeff Caruso

Network World
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