Ethernet will keep accelerating, speeding up to 100Gbps (bits per second) in the next few years, according to the head of a standards study group.
A special study group of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) last Thursday agreed on a target for the next generation of the ubiquitous data networking technology. The 100Gbps version of Ethernet will be 10 times faster than the current fastest type, 10-Gigabit Ethernet. But vendors as well as users represented in the group, including Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories and cable operator, Comcast, saw a need for that kind of speed down the road, chair of the group, John D'Ambrosia, said. It would serve the needs of both enterprises and carriers.
Ethernet was introduced more than 30 years ago and became popular as a 10Mbps system for enterprise LANs. Along the way, Fast Ethernet (100Mbps), Gigabit Ethernet and 10-Gigabit Ethernet have been added. Because each was standardised, many vendors have been able to compete and prices have been driven down. New Ethernet versions began life aggregating streams of packets from lower-speed connections and, in turn, were later aggregated into fatter pipes that used the latest high speed.
Video, high-performance computing and the increasing demands of applications in data centers would require faster connections, D'Ambrosia said, who is also scientist of components technology at high-end Ethernet switch vendor Force10 Networks. The study group was formed in July to decide what speed the IEEE should try to achieve in the next standard. Last week at an IEEE meeting in Dallas, 100Gbps achieved the required 75 per cent vote within the study group.
Other possible speeds were considered, including 40Gbps, 80Gbps and 120Gbps, but none of them garnered enough backing. The group weighed the time and effort required to achieve a speed against how well it would meet the needs that existed when it became available, D'Ambrosia said.
Between that vote and 100Gbps Ethernet hitting the market, the IEEE needs to approve the formation of a working group that will then figure out how to achieve the higher speed. Judging from the development of earlier standards, D'Ambrosia said standard 100Gbps Ethernet products were likely to become available in late 2009 or early 2010.
The challenges this time would be similar to those in the past, only harder, he said. Among them are heat and power requirements and enabling faster communication among the chips inside networking equipment. Like other steps up in Ethernet speed, it is likely to appear first in gear that uses optical fiber.
Getting it to work over copper wires would be harder than ever, D'Ambrosia said, but he wouldn't rule it out. The cycle never ended, he said.
"This will never be the last higher speed study group," D'Ambrosia said. "We'll get this done and eventually there will be a push for another speed after this."