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Ethernet projects to transform business, data centres

Posted: 13 Feb 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Ethernet  400GbE  IEEE 802.3  Wi-Fi 

If Ethernet was a novel, 2014 would be a chapter that introduced new characters and plot twists. The casual reader would scratch her head, perhaps somewhat in confusion, and say, "Wow, I didn't see that coming."

It would have been no surprise that last year the next higher speed project, 400 Gigabit Ethernet (400GbE), continued in earnest. Ethernet also expanded its 40GbE and 100GbE optical and copper families and developed 25Gbit/s electrical signalling in support of 100GbE. Ethernet also continued introducing new application spaces, such as Vehicular (or automotive) Ethernet.

The plot twists in 2014 came with the introduction of two new efforts. Next Generation Enterprise Access BASE-T (NGEABT) is expected to introduce two new Ethernet rates, 2.5GbE and 5GbE. The definition of the 25GbE is spawning two new IEEE 802.3 projects targeting the server-to-switch interconnect. Both of these efforts breathed new life into the Ethernet BASE-T roadmap.

Potential impacts of last year's plot changes are starting to show.

The NGEABT effort aims to overcome congestion from 802.11ac Wi-Fi access points that are pushing beyond today's Gigabit Ethernet BASE-T capabilities. There is considerable market pressure on this effort to move quickly, and it is anticipated that the group will request approval to become an official project at the IEEE 802.3 March plenary.

In addition, discussions have started about a smaller, lower profile connector than the long-dominant RJ-45 to support newer, lower profile products or to achieve greater density. Such discussions have been going on for a long time, so it will be interesting to see how this effort will proceed.

Meanwhile, the first 25GbE effort, the IEEE P802.3by 25GbE Task Force, will be specifying 25GbE operation over backplanes, twin-axial cabling and multi-mode fibre, mainly geared to serve big data centres. One of the trickier tasks will be dealing with forward error correction for the 3m intra-rack and 5m inter-rack application spaces. Significant market expectations will help to drive consensus quickly, so the project likely will be completed mid-next year.

The second effort is 25GBASE-T, which is expected to have implications for enterprises looking to upgrade 10G nets. Based on a January meeting, the effort is expected to leverage work on the 40GBASE-T project to date, enabling it to progress rapidly and complete in the first half of next year.

The never-ending search for higher speeds continues. The January IEEE meeting was supposed to be one where 400G technical proposals were selected. Many of the proposals, however, indicate an underlying choice to be made by the industry to shift to an advanced modulation scheme for either electrical or optical signalling.

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