On the horizon: 100 Gigabit Ethernet

IEEE chairman John D'Ambrosia on its project to create a 100Gbps Ethernet standard by 2010

The IEEE's latest project could significantly boost the speed of traffic delivery across the Internet. In November, the IEEE's 802.3 Higher Speed Study Group announced that it's working to create a 100Gbps Ethernet standard, which could be ready by 2010. The group is racing against time to accommodate the increasing demands of content creators and consumers around the world. Sandra Gittlen recently spoke with John D'Ambrosia, chairman of the study group and a scientist at Force10 Networks, about the impact of 100G Ethernet on technology users.

What is driving the need for 100G Ethernet?

There are many applications where you're seeing the need for 100G emerging. Some examples are Internet exchanges, carriers and high-performance computing. You're also seeing a need when you look at what's happening with personalized content, which includes video delivery such as YouTube, IPTV and HDTV. There's also video on demand. All of this together is driving the need for 100G Ethernet.

Consumers are also contributing to this. For instance, people have digital cameras that churn out large files that they want to share across the Internet. Content-generation capabilities are increasing rapidly at both the professional and consumer level. This is creating a basic ecosystem problem -- people are sharing content at a higher level, and all of that has to feed into today's pipes.

Is there enough bandwidth today to meet the needs of businesses, content providers and consumers?

You do have 10G Ethernet already, and if you use link aggregation -- which allows you to pool your 10G links to create a bigger pipe -- you can go higher. But bandwidth needs are quickly surpassing these bandwidth limits.

When we did an analysis to check the viability of a 100G Ethernet standard, we found that the top supercomputers could already use that much bandwidth today. However, these standards are not something you whip out in 18 months. Right now, we're trying to define what will be in the 100G project. That's a time-consuming process -- you have to create baseline proposals, develop the spec and get comments. We have to go through the document and make sure we got everything right. But, yes, we are hearing people say we need it now, even though a final spec is at least three to four years away.

Do you foresee a lot of prestandard technology on the market?

Some companies are already talking about 100G. I think the reality is that there are a lot of different technologies that are going to be needed to fully deploy 100G Ethernet. You'll need new optics, backplanes and chip technologies. 10G backplanes won't be sufficient, so you need to make a leap there.

In regard to 100G Ethernet prestandard, [IT managers] are very nervous about going with prestandard technology. They'll do it if they have to, but it will be hesitantly. And they will surely keep their eyes on what's happening in the standards bodies.

You mentioned that companies are using link aggregation to get to higher speeds today. Why is that a problem?

Link aggregation scales up to a limit, and then it becomes an issue. Depending on who you to talk to, you'll hear that two, four or eight links can be aggregated together before you have management and troubleshooting issues. Also, those cables take up precious real estate, and you have power and cooling considerations. Using up those ports for link aggregation also creates lost revenue opportunities, because any port that's tied up is not bringing in revenue. There are a lot of issues with scaling, too.

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