February 11, 2000
Seven leading networking vendors announced the formation of the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance earlier this week, putting their combined marketing muscle behind the latest incarnation of the LAN technology that's beginning to invade carrier networks.
The Alliance aims to promote the use of 10 Gbit/s Ethernet, not just for high bandwidth connections within data centers but also for metropolitan area networks and even for long haul transmission systems.
It's a repeat performance of the Gigabit Ethernet Alliance, which led to rapid deployment and price reductions of the previous upgrade of the technology. And it promises to deliver similar results. Vendors are planning to roll out the first 10 Gbit/s Ethernet switches within a year, well before the IEEE 802.3ae task force has completed work on the standard. And prices promise to be so low that carriers will have to consider using it rather than Sonet (synchronous optical network) in some parts of their networks.
Right now, however, it's early days. Some key issues in the 10 Gbit/s Ethernet standard have yet to be ironed out and when the first products arrive, they're bound to have teething problems.
It's also clear that 10 Gbit/s Ethernet won't kill off Sonet, as some marketing mavens suggest. It can't be used over very long distances, and it can't deliver the same rock-solid quality of service guarantees as Sonet.
"With Sonet, you can take an OC192 circuit, and allocate one OC48 for voice, a second for ATM, and two for IP data. You can't do that with Ethernet. Even with the queuing and prioritization schemes now available for Ethernet, you can never quite achieve the same level of rigidity," says Jonathan Reeves, president and CEO of Sirroco Systems Inc.http://www.sirrocosystems.com a startup developing a Sonet multi-service provisioning platform.
In other ways, however, 10 Gbit/s Ethernet easily outguns Sonet. "In a pure data environment, where the only traffic consists of IP packets, it's an excellent choice," says Reeves.
"This is where optical networking and DWDM (dense wave division multiplexing) can really help - by supporting both 10 Gig Ethernet and Sonet at the same time, on the same device," he adds.
10 Gbit/s Ethernet has a lot of ground to catch up on Sonet, which is widely deployed in carrier networks. But development is proceeding at a cracking pace.
Work on the standard at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) http://www.ieee.org won't be completed until early 2002, but vendors will roll out pre-standard 10 Gbit/s switches within a year, according to Tony Lee, president of the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance and director of product marketing at Extreme Networks Inc. http://www.extremenetworks.com
The Alliance aims to speed up market acceptance of 10 Gbit/s Ethernet technology by demonstrating the interoperability of products and promoting its use at conferences, trade shows and the like. As noted, this proved to be highly successful for 1 Gbit/s Ethernet, driving up sales volumes and driving down prices soon after products started shipping.
Founding members of the Alliance include Extreme, Cisco Systems Inc.http://www.cisco.com, Intel Corp. http://www.intel.com, Nortel Networks http://www.nortelnetworks.com, Sun Microsystems Inc. http://www.sun.com, 3Com Corp. http://www.3com.com, and World Wide Packets http://www.worldwidepackets.com. (World Wide Packets is a startup developing Gig Ethernet products for broadband services targeting consumers. Its chairman, Bernard Daines, played a key role in developing previous Ethernet standards and founded Packet Engines, the Gig Ethernet startup bought by Alcatel SA. http://www.alcatel.fr)
Lee expects alliance membership to grow quickly. Already, vendors of test and measurement gear like Netcom Systems Inc. http://www.netcomsystems.com have pledged to participate in the alliance's technical meetings, and something like 70 vendors and have been active over the past year in IEEE discussions.
The rapid development of 10 Gbit/s products and their acceptance by users is likely to be made a lot easier by the use in the forthcoming standard of the same MAC (media access control) layer frame format used in previous generations of Ethernet technology.
This means that equipment can be built using similar transceivers used in existing Ethernet equipment, which are produced in very large volumes, at very low cost. "When we were developing the Gigabit Ethernet specs, the Fibre Channel folks asked why we didn't just adopt their specs," Daines recalls. "What they didn't understand was that their yearly output represented just a few days' production in the Ethernet world."
Using the same framing will also appeal to potential customers, most of whom have a lot of expertise in using Ethernet in LAN environments.
The combination of low manufacturing costs and rapid adoption by customers promises to keep 10 Gibit/s Ethernet prices well below Sonet ones. "It will be far less costly to own and operate than Sonet or ATM," says Lee. But getting a fix on actual costs isn't possible at this stage. All that Lee will say is that 10 Gbit/s Ethernet will probably cost three to four times as much as 1 Gbit/s Ethernet.
In other respects, 10-Gbit/s Ethernet can't match Sonet's credentials. The proposed standard aims to cover transmission distances of up to 40-kilometers using single mode fiber - a big improvement over the 2-kilometers in the 1-Gbit/s standard but not enough for it to be used over really long distances.
Vendors may find ways of extending the range, as they have with 1-Gbit/s Ethernet switches. Some of this gear has been used to shunt 1 Gbit/s over distances of as much as 150 km without repeaters, although the transceivers probably kick out a lot of heat and radiation achieving this feat.
Right now, it's hard to say how this will pan out, partly because the IEEE is still debating whether to adopt Ethernet or Sonet encoding for the physical layer of its standard. Lee says the IEEE may adopt both - the former for data centers and the latter for carriers - but Baines thinks the LAN standard will prevail.
--by David Newman, president of Network Test http://www.networktest.com, a benchmarking and network design consultancy. He can be reached at [email protected].
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