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What's beyond 10G Ethernet?

40/100G Ethernet seen as 2012 phenomena at earliest; is 400G coming before Terabit Ethernet?

By , Network World
December 16, 2010 11:22 AM ET

Network World - So 10G Ethernet is now taking off - 10G accounts for roughly 25% of the overall $18 billion Ethernet switching market and the growth trajectory is only up from there.

Also read: Ethernet everywhere!

Which begs the question: What's next?

Even though 10G has hardly reached maturity or saturation, its uptake will undoubtedly usher in the next wave of Ethernet switching. And that will be 40G/100G and eventually Terabit Ethernet, though there may be intermediate steps in between.

Indeed, the 40/100G Ethernet standard was recently ratified and products are now emerging on the market. Extreme Networks, Force10 Networks and BLADE Network Technologies have all announced switches support 40G Ethernet ports for data center, applications - such as aggregating all those growing 10G ports.

And Cisco, Juniper, Brocade and Alcatel-Lucent have all announced or begun shipping 100G Ethernet interfaces on their service provider routers. Verizon and the Internet2 research network are using Juniper's while AT&T is evaluating Cisco's.

On the chip side, Broadcom just unveiled devices for 100G Ethernet interfaces but designed to scale up to Terabit Ethernet across the backplane. Fulcrum just announce a 40G Ethernet chip design at the Supercomputing show Nov. 16 that it claims supports more than 1 billion packets per second of performance - or enough for up to 72 ports of 10G Ethernet at full line rate.

And Intel plans to put 10GBase-T directly onto standalone and rack-mount server motherboards next year, bringing even lower cost 10G connectivity directly to the server. This will significantly ramp 10G adoption and increase demand for 40/100G.

"Everybody is talking about (40/100G Ethernet) as a data center future and they want to know what our plans are," says Bill Seifert, CTO of Avaya's Data Solutions business. "In 2011, most CIOs are going to be picking their vendor for 10G switching in the data center. They're going to need some aggregation trunks to feed from the top-of-rack to the core switches."

Aggregation of 10G is one requirement for 40/100G Ethernet. Others are virtualization and network convergence.

Data centers are implementing server virtualization to increase utilization and resource efficiency, share workloads and decrease power consumption. Server virtualization is putting more application load on fewer servers due to the ability to decouple applications and operating systems from physical hardware. And, as virtualization and the movement of virtual machines around the infrastructure accelerates, so too must the network.

More application load on less server hardware requires a higher-performance network.

In concert with this is a migration to a unified data center switching fabric that consolidates LAN data with storage traffic. These unified switching fabrics converge storage protocols onto Ethernet, which requires a high-speed, very low latency, lossless architecture - one that's traditionally been found in data center SAN networks.

In service provider networks, demand for 100G Ethernet is being fueled by video. According to Juniper, two-thirds of consumer traffic on networks will soon include some form of video. And Cisco says that 90% of Internet traffic will be video by 2014. Using 100G, HD movies can be downloaded in seconds and terabytes of scientific data can be simultaneously shared by laboratories in two different hemispheres.

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