Casting a 'Stressed Eye' on 10G Tests

Circadiant Systems says it's contributing a special type of test device to an upcoming event at the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory (IOL) (see Circadiant Tests 10-Gig).

Interestingly, neither of Circadiant's chief competitors has volunteered their gear for the event, a test of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet equipment, in which vendors will be able to gauge how closely their prototypes and products match up to existing specifications from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE).

Circadiant is one of just three vendors in the world that make a so-called "stressed eye" tester. The other two are Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) and JDS Uniphase Corp. (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU), neither of which was able to confirm at press time whether they'd show up at the UNH event. Stay tuned.

The rarity of the tester speaks to the newness of what it's supposed to test. The term "stressed eye" refers to the ways in which a tester pounds 10-Gbit/s components and systems to determine viability for real-world 10-Gbit/s traffic.

Normally, optical capabilities of switches or other devices are measured by so-called eye diagrams, which depict the strength and stability of light signals transmitted and received in a readout that resembles the shape of -- you've got it -- an eye.

The IEEE 802.3ae committee, the one charged with developing 10-Gbit/s Ethernet specifications, has defined eye-diagram measurements the group thinks 10-Gbit/s Ethernet equipment should deliver. The IEEE's also specified ways to test for conformance to the spec. Circadiant, along with Agilent and JDSU, has been first out of the gate with tests that match the IEEE's criteria.

Agilent appears to have been first to market with its tester, the N1016A tester, announced back in June shortly after the IEEE ratified the 802.3ae specs. Circadiant and JDSU announced their testers, known as the OST 10GE Stressed Receiver Conformance Test option and OPTX10A, respectively, in September 2002 (see JDSU Unveils 10-Gig Testers and Circadiant Unveils Stress Eye Tester).

So far, though, only Circadiant has ponied up its tester for the UNH event, which is set to run from January 6-31, 2003.

Bob Noseworthy, 10 Gigabit Ethernet Consortium Manager at UNH, says Circadiant's tester will be key to the event, but he's careful not to characterize the project as a conformance test.

"It would be a stretch to say the event tested conformance or compliance. We avoid those terms," he says. Instead, the tests are aimed to show how well gear stacks up to specs and to equipment from other providers.

Vendors are typically interested in data like that, but Noseworthy says "the jury's still out" on just how many suppliers will attend. The last UNH 10-Gbit/s interoperability bakeoff, held in October 2002, resulted in just eight physical boxes being tested. UNH has facilities to test up to 60.

Why the relatively small turnout? Noseworthy says some vendors are chary of exposing their wares to competitors, despite the NDAs that participating vendors sign. Others cite the inability to provide manpower and/or travel expenses, or to pay the $6,000 minimum to participate in the test.

Noseworthy says he hopes the Circadiant tester will help draw a crowd of at least 12 to 20 this coming January. If it does, he's prepared to offer participants the chance to view an anonymous matrix of overall results, something he can't do unless he gets sufficient numbers to keep the results really anonymous.

It will be notable if UNH builds a bigger roster. Right now, the rarity of testers and products to test testifies to the overall newness of the 10-Gbit/s Ethernet market. The message appears to be that, so far, vendors are still shaky when it comes to exposing 10-Gbit/s prototypes to the light of day.

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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