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10-GigE Vendors Get Cold Feet

The standard is ready and so are the products, but the 10-Gbit/s Ethernet switch vendors don't want to be tested

June 19, 2002

5 Min Read
10-GigE Vendors Get Cold Feet

In the last couple of weeks, two performance tests for 10-Gigabit Ethernet have been canceled due to a lack of vendor interest.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) finally ratified the 802.3 specification for the technology on June 13, 2002. And even though several companies claim to have 10-Gbit/s products ready, many are balking at the chance to test their products’ performance. In the past few weeks, a live demonstration at the 10 Gig Inaugural Expo has been canceled, and Meir Communications has called off its 10-Gig Ethernet test. Why aren’t vendors interested?

“No one came right and out and said that they didn’t want to participate because their box couldn’t perform at line rate,” says Mike Bennett, senior network engineer at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, which was putting together the 10-Gbit/s demonstration for the Inaugural Expo. “But let’s just say they haven’t been beating down our doors to be included. You can draw your own conclusions.”

OK. We will.

The Inaugural 10 Gig Expo was supposed to get underway next week in Phoenix (see Show to Demo 10-Gig Throughput). Bennett and his team from Berkeley Labs had designed a test bed using two sets of 12 high-end computers to pump traffic through the network at 10 Gbit/s. Some vendors had already signed up to participate, but many at the last minute declined or pulled out. Finally, two weeks ago, the show’s sponsor, Pinnacle Conference Network, was forced to call it off.

Last week, Meir Communications, an independent Gigabit Ethernet testing service, was supposed to begin testing gear for an article that was scheduled to appear in the August edition of Business Communications Review. Once again, a lack of vendor interest killed plans for that test. Sources say that BCR is still expected to run a story, but instead of testing all the 10-Gbit/s players, it is simply asking vendors to fill out a survey of their capabilities.

There are several switch companies already shipping, or at least beta testing, 10-Gbit/s Ethernet products. Many of them participated in the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance (10GEA) interoperability demonstration last month at Network + Interop in Las Vegas (see Vendors Show Off 10-GigE at N+I). These included switch vendors like Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Enterasys Networks Inc. (NYSE: ETS), Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR), Force10 Networks Inc., Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY), and Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT). Riverstone Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: RSTN), which has not yet shipped its 10-Gbit/s product, did not participate in the N+I demo.

Some of these companies, like Foundry and Force10, agreed to participate in the 10 Gig Inaugural Expo demonstration. But many, like Cisco and Riverstone, declined. As for the BCR test, Meir Communications would not reveal which vendors declined to be tested. Force10 says it is still willing to have its gear tested by both testing houses; it will be used in a demonstration staged at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab facility later this month. Cisco says it plans to provide BCR with the necessary specification information for the August story.

“The reason we decided not to participate is basically a resource issue,” wrote Larry Yu, Cisco spokesperson, in an email to Light Reading. “We had to choose between an upcoming third-party 10GigE interoperability test at the end of the month and this. We chose to participate in the interoperability test.”

Cisco is planning to participate in an interoperability test run by the Tolly Group.

It seems clear from the choice of tests that vendors are more comfortable in an interoperability demonstration than in a performance test. And who can blame them? According to Bennett, who is familiar with most of the products available today, Force10 Networks is the only company that even comes close to achieving 10-Gbit/s line-rate throughput (see Force10 Shows Off 10-GigE Switch). He says the startup’s switch typically achieves forwarding throughput between 9.0 Gbit/s and 9.5 Gbit/s, depending on packet size.

“It is somewhat misleading to customers, because if you say it is a 10-Gbit/s product then I expect it to forward at line rate,” says Bennett.

Then, of course, there's the issue of customers. Despite the hype surrounding 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, the fact is that most service providers aren’t ready to offer it. Tier 1 service providers in the U.S. aren’t expected to deploy 10 Gbit/s for at least 12 to 18 months, according to Mark Sue, an analyst with Frost Securities Inc. Large interexchange carriers like WorldCom Inc. (Nasdaq: WCOM) and RBOCs like SBC Communications Inc. are just now rolling out Ethernet services (see WorldCom Unveils Metro Ethernet). Meanwhile, Ethernet service providers like Yipes Communications Inc. and Sigma Networks are filing for bankruptcy protection and selling off assets (see Another Metro Provider Fails: Was Vendor Financing the Difference?) and Yipes Joins Chapter 11 Club).

While large carriers typically adopt new technologies at a slower rate than new players, 10 Gbit/s may also be cost prohibitive right now. Initially, 10-Gbit/s Ethernet will be expensive, with per-port costs as high as $80,000. And as T1 costs drop from $1,000 per month to $750 per month, there is little incentive for customers to switch their service to Ethernet.

But analysts expect prices to drop drastically over the next few years, just as 100-Mbit/s Ethernet and 1-Gbit/s Ethernet did. According to IDC, 10-Gig's prices will decline to $7,800 per port by 2005.

After the pain of the initial investment wears off, the technology will likely take off, says Mark Sue of Frost Securities in a research note he published yesterday. He says that with Sonet OC192c interfaces priced at around $300,000, 10 GigE is already a bargain. But many people disagree. They say that Sonet OC192c port prices have also dropped and are now under $100,000.

The true sweet spot for 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, at least in the near term, seems to be in the enterprise. One of the biggest drivers in this market is the sharp decline in pricing of 1000base-T Ethernet interfaces. These network cards are selling for as low as $50 a piece. And with 1000base-T Ethernet running within enterprise networks, 10-Gbit/s Ethernet switches will become necessary for traffic aggregation. Bennett says he also sees supercomputing as another potential market segment.

— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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