macworld news antenna

The next generation Ethernet will operate at 100 gigabits

Ethernet continues to accelerate, from 100 Gbps (bits per second) in the coming years, as indicated by the spokesperson for a study group on standards last Wednesday.

A special study group from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has agreed on the target speed in the next generation of ubiquitous network technology. The 100 Gbps version of Ethernet will be ten times faster than the current fastest version (10-Gigabit Ethernet). Manufacturers, as well as users represented in the group, see the need for this type of speed, as stated by John D’Ambrosia (head of the group). According to his statements, he will cover both the needs of companies and suppliers.

Ethernet has been available for more than 30 years, becoming popular as a 10 Mbps system in business local networks (LANs; Local Area Networks). Throughout its life, new versions have appeared, such as Fast Ethernet (100 Mbps), Gigabit Ethernet and 10-Gigabit Ethernet. Thanks to the fact that they are all standard, it has allowed free competition between a large number of manufacturers, thus lowering the prices of their implementation. The new versions of Ethernet start their journey by aggregating packet streams from the lowest connection speeds, and therefore, aggregating in thicker channels using the fastest speeds available.

According to D’Ambrosia (who also serves as a component technology scientist at high-end Ethernet switch manufacturer Force10 Networks), video, high-performance computing, and the ever-increasing demands of applications in Data centers require faster connections. The study group was formed in July to decide what speed the IEEE should aim to achieve in the next standard. Last Thursday, at the meeting held by the IEEE in Dallas, the 100 Gps proposal achieved 75 percent of the required votes.

According to D’Ambrosia, other options were also raised, such as 40 Gbps, 80 Gbps and 120 Gbps, but none of them got the necessary support. The group has weighed the time and effort required to achieve a given speed against the possibilities that it would respond to existing needs once it was available.

Between that vote and when 100 Gbps Ethernet actually hits the market, the IEEE needs to approve the formation of a working group to investigate how to achieve that speed. Judging from the development of the above standards, D’Ambrosia has indicated that 100 Gbps Ethernet products could be available in late 2009 or early 2010.

According to D’Ambrosia, this time the challenges will be quite similar to those encountered in the past, only a little tougher. Among them are the requirements for power and heat dissipation, as well as achieving faster communications between the chips used inside the communications equipment. Like other steps taken previously on Ethernet speed, it is likely to appear first in fiber optic based equipment. Getting it to work on copper wires will be more difficult than ever.