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Ethernet challenges set new road maps

Posted: 20 Oct 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Ethernet  50G  100G  John D'Ambrosia  data centre 

These days, John D'Ambrosia is like the Dutch boy with a finger in each crack of a dike about to burst—and he's running out of fingers.

So the veteran of several high-speed Ethernet standards efforts did this week what he often does when under stress. He called a meeting of the Ethernet Alliance trade group that brought out about 140 networking specialists to debate what to do next.

The problem is Ethernet now covers a waterfront from gadgets in the home to core networks for the world's largest service providers and data centres. Folks like D'Ambrosia used to manage Ethernet's road map by delivering a 10x faster technology every three years, but that approach has stopped working.

"Targeting real applications with real solutions is the way forward," he told engineers at the end of the consensus-gathering meeting. "The days of building standards with 10x jumps are over."

 Current Ethernet road map

The current Ethernet road map includes a new 25G effort, but that's just the start for changes yet to come.

Well, almost over. D'Ambrosia still chairs a 400G Ethernet effort that's a follow on to his last gig as chairman of a 100G/40G standard. Telecom providers want that standard for their core networks, but meanwhile a few other cracks have opened up in the Ethernet dike.

Big data centres such as Google and Microsoft decided earlier this year they want 25G and 50G standards based on today's 28G serdes. They see the new data rates as cost-effective ways to grow the networks that run today's search, social networking and other services. Now they think they want a 200G standard based on next-generation 56G serdes, too.

The data centres buy as much as 10 per cent of Ethernet products these days, so vendors including Arista, Broadcom, Cisco, Dell and others formed a consortium in June to deliver the 25G/50G technologies, getting out ahead of the standards process.

Just a few months later, another group realised a crack was opening up in business Wi-Fi networks. The next generation of access points based on the 802.11ac standard threatens to swamp their wired Gbit Ethernet backhaul links. Today's 10Gbit upgrade is too expensive and not suitable for the copper cables businesses have installed, so they are calling for 2.5G/5G standards.

Separately Google and telecom giants are asking for a new FlexEthernet standard so they can ratchet speeds of the upcoming 400G standards down as needed by 50G, 100G or 200G to save costs.

Each new effort opens up other gaps. For instance, the push for 25G data centre networks has already spawned separate twisted pair and twinax efforts to cover the separate needs of users of those media.

"There's more going on in Ethernet today than ever before," says an exasperated D'Ambrosia over a glass of wine the night before the event. "We have not even talked about at least five efforts to bring Ethernet to cars—that will be huge," he said.

In the end, Ethernet will support a broader family of speeds and feeds. The consensus meeting made clear that one or more 50G standards are needed, the debate over a 50G versus 100G serial lambda standard for optical nets is unresolved and the 2.5G/5G push looks like "a good opportunity," D'Ambrosia said at the end of the event.

Here are some slides from last week's Ethernet Alliance meeting that highlight the new efforts, their challenges and the dynamics driving them.

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