The pipe gets bigger

For the uninitiated, the IEEE 802.3ba standard, ratified in June this year, is the first specification to simultaneously specify two new Ethernet speeds – 40G/100G, paving the way for a new wave of higher speed Ethernet server connectivity and core switching products.

Is there a market demand for 40G, especially considering that fact that 10G is just beginning to ramp up? Aren’t the current price points (six or seven times higher than 10G) too high to spur mainstream adoption? “A higher interface speed in the form of 40/100G is an absolute need to be able to interconnect the Ethernet switches and sustain the ever increasing load on data centres,” says Paulo Pereira, Systems Engineering Manager, Cisco.

He explains why: server consolidation and virtualisation in the data centre are increasing the connectivity requirements for the servers. The requirement for high-density, high-performance servers coupled with consolidation benefits of Fiber Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) and appearance of servers with 10GE LAN on Motherboard (LOM) is causing customers to consider 10GE today. With the increased trend of having servers attach to the Ethernet switches using 10Gbps interfaces, it is becoming more and more difficult to interconnect the Ethernet Switches. Up to now, the technology used to create bigger pipes to interconnect Ethernet switches has been to aggregate multiple links of 10GE but this technology not only requires more cabling and increases the complexity but it also does not always provide a linear multiple of the data rate of a single link.

Charles Ferland, VP of EMEA, BLADE Network Technologies, agrees: “With more and more servers connecting using 10G, it is only natural to see uplink speeds that are greater. 40G can be used for inter-switch communication or connecting to faster backbones, but will rarely be used to connect servers. The prices for 40G are dropping; it is much more cost efficient to use 40G instead of combining 4 x 10G.”

Extreme Networks, which has recently unveiled 40GbE network solutions, believes as data centres increase in server density through consolidation and virtualization, 40G connectivity from the network core and to top-of-rack switches will become critical to providing the performance and scale required of the network. “40 GbE is poised to become a data center infrastructure requirement, where it serves as an aggregation technology necessary to build data centers with high performance servers that are supporting virtualized services, video, storage and traditional applications,” says Aziz Ala’ali.

Industry experts say the demand for 40G will pick up once it follows a similar price decline as 10G when it ships in increasing volumes. “The widespread adoption of the technology unleashes powerful economies of scale and will drive the prices down. It’s expected that the pricing for the 40GE/100GE interfaces will follow the trends of Ethernet development that we’ve seen in historically from 10Mbps to 100Mbps to 1GE and 10GE,” says Pereira.

As for 100G, it’s expected to be primarily a carrier technology initially, focused on backbone interconnects at the moment. “It will start a carrier technology, as the need for increased capacity is most urgent in carrier network. But it can be expected that 100 GbE later on will be introduced into Datacenter and Enterprise networks as well,” says Ala’ali.

Tarek Abbas, Systems Engineering Director at Juniper Networks, adds that 100 GbE will help wireless and wireline service providers, cloud builders and data centres fully realize the promise of virtualization to consolidate resources, improve efficiency and drive down costs.

What is beyond 40G/100G? Researchers are already looking for ways to crank Ethernet up to terabit levels. “The reality of 40/100G Ethernet technology is here today but the bandwidth requirements of some of the most complex datacenters such as the ones ran by google or facebook already surpasses what the technology can deliver today so they are left with some pretty complex network architectures to be able to sustain the ever increasing load. In a recent seminar hosted by the Ethernet Alliance, Google and Facebook have expressed their need for 400G or even 1T speeds for as early as 2013. At this moment the next logical step for Ethernet seems to be 400Gbps,” says Pereira. If history has taught anything we will always find a way to fill up the pipe and don’t be surprised if Terabit Ethernet is here sooner than you expect.

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