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40 and 100 Gigabit Ethernet ratification doesn't mean immediate uptake

40 and 100 Gigabit Ethernet ratification means that vendors can roll out standardized 40 and 100 GbE switching products with enormous speed, but users are likely to hold off until prices come down and the need for performance is greater.

40 and 100 Gigabit Ethernet ratification is officially here, but the development is only a small step in a very long road toward actual widespread implementation of the technology.

Still, that won't stop vendors from marketing the technology as if users need it today.

The IEEE 802.3ba standard – announced Monday – governs both 40 and 100 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) operations; and for now, each aims to address different needs in various parts of the network.

"The 802.3ba spec is a dual-laid standard for 40/100 gig. We decided on two rates: 40 Gig primarily targeting the computing application space – servers; and 100 Gig targeting network aggregation," said IEEE 802.3ba task force chair John D'Ambrosia. The rate of growth among servers has doubled every 24 months while network aggregation has been doubling every 18 months, according to the IEEE.

The IEEE worked closely with users like Facebook and Google on developing the standard because the technology will be driven by extremely bandwidth-intensive applications, as well as converged data center networks that enable better application flow from storage to the end user.

Google says it will need terabit Ethernet in 2013, according to D'Ambrosia. But in the short term, most networking teams are still in the early stages of investing in 10 GbE technology in the data center – and even that is considered extremely expensive.

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"I would say that [the new standard] would be used when the price curve comes down out of the stratosphere," said R. Craig Dodson, senior infrastructure architect at law firm Ropes & Gray LLP. "It's still cheaper to bond multiple 10 GbE links into a larger 'pipe' than it is to use single 40 Gb or 100 Gb links, and you get the same effective throughput…. When the single 40s get cheaper than four 10s, you might see some change in how we do things."

Meanwhile, when 40 and 100 Gigabit aggregation does take root, it is expected to spur expanded 10 GbE network deployment.

"I firmly believe that as we migrate to 10 gig servers, the 100 gig becomes very desirable, or at least a lag of two 40s," D'Ambrosia said. "I hear a lot of people talking about virtual worlds, but they need to remember there is a real physical network under there. If they are looking at moving apps into the 10 gig-type servers, I think they're going to find themselves needing 100 gig."

Several vendors, including Cisco, Juniper and Extreme, have already released 40 or 100 GbE products. Force 10 announced its 40 Gigabit Ethernet roadmap at Interop in April. Extreme said its 40 Gigabit Ethernet connections at $1,000 per port. It is unclear whether existing products meet the new standard.

As a result, it's very likely that the average user will wait to see how these products evolve and for pricing to come down in later versions.

The time frame on 40 or 100 GbE investment will probably be 12 to 18 months, Dodson said, adding that his firm may use the technology in its planned next-generation data center build-out sometime in 2011.

Shamus McGillicuddy contributed to this report

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