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IEEE explores new standards: 400 Gigabit Ethernet or Terabit Ethernet

With bandwidth demand growing, the IEEE formed a new consensus group to determine next Ethernet speed: 400 Gigabit Ethernet or Terabit Ethernet.

With bandwidth demand escalating rapidly, the IEEE is getting the ball rolling on the next generation of Ethernet, forming the 802.3 Industry Connections Higher Speed Ethernet Consensus group.

The group will determine whether the IEEE should develop 400 Gigabit Ethernet, Terabit Ethernet or both, according to John D'Ambrosia, chair of consensus group and chief Ethernet evangelist at Round Rock, Texas-based Dell Inc.

The last time the IEEE kicked off this process a consensus group determined bandwidth requirements for enterprise and service provider networks were growing at different rates. The emergence of 10 gigabit network interfaces for servers created demand for 40 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) in core and aggregation switches. Meanwhile, service providers were facing explosive mobile data growth, creating demand for 100 GbE in the core. As a result, the consensus group recommended the development of two Ethernet speeds simultaneously. The 802.3ba standard emerged with 40 GbE aimed at enterprise data centers, and 100 GbE aimed at service provider core networks.

A similar debate could break out within the next standardization effort. While networking vendors will likely lobby for 400 Gigabit Ethernet, service providers facing extreme traffic growth could argue for Terabit Ethernet.

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"The component and system vendors are in general moving toward 400 gigabit," D'Ambrosia said. "Then the end users are looking at needs based on bandwidth demand. I think what could happen in that first meeting is the cost perspective will come into play. Even technical feasibility will be brought up."

Today 400 Gigabit Ethernet is more technically feasible than Terabit Ethernet, he said. State of the art electrical signalling for Ethernet components tops out at 25 gigabits today, so it was a simple matter of using quad-signalling to get the industry to 100 GbE.

"If you try to do 400 gigabit, it's simply a by-16 interface," D'Ambrosia said, but to achieve Terabit Ethernet with today's electrical signalling capabilities would require a by-40 interface, which will get extremely expensive. "You might see some progress where we'll build a new generation of building blocks to play with, but we really don't have the tools in the toolbox right now. 400 gigabit is technically feasible."

According to a new bandwidth study from the IEEE, there is urgent need for a next-generation standard. The IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Bandwidth Assessment report estimates networks will need 1 terabit per second (Tbps) total network capacity by 2015 and 10 Tbps by 2020.

D'Ambrosia said the determination of this consensus group could dictate how quickly a standard emerges. If the IEEE focuses on a single Ethernet speed it could move relatively quickly. If it focuses on developing two Ethernet speeds again, the process could run longer.

The consensus group will hold its first meeting at the Joint International Telecommunications Union (ITU)/IEEE Workshop on Ethernet on Sept. 22 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Director.

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