1. Guest Commentary: "The Evolution of Ethernet"

    CEN Feature (Dec 18 2012)

    1. Guest Commentary: "The Evolution of Ethernet"

      Continuing its mission to promote IEEE 802 Ethernet technologies last week as emissaries of the Ethernet Alliance myself and Chauncey Schwartz, chair, Marketing Committee, Ethernet Alliance and senior technical marketing manager, QLogic, attended the LISA conference and delivered a joint presentation, entitled “The Evolution of Ethernet.

      As we discussed at LISA, the story of Ethernet is often about focus.  From the application spaces being addressed to "feeds-and-speeds" to "Converged networks" to "What's Next?" there are a number of themes that are of interest. Bob Metcalfe, an Ethernet founder, has stated that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system. With the number of global users forecasted to reach 3 billion by 2015, system administrators will leverage existing and remerging Ethernet technologies to support an expanding eco-system that is constantly tooling ways to increase its capacity and performance.   As the value of networks grow through increased capacities that are constantly connecting more devices and more users, system administrators face the challenges of developing, deploying, and managing these ever expanding networks. 

      Ethernet plays a role in so many networks – from its enterprise roots to today’s data centers, supporting access applications, metro networks and providing client side connections to Carrier’s OTN Networks, supporting wireless backhaul, and expanding into new network types, such as automotive networks.  Ethernet is truly everywhere.  And therein lies the challenge for Ethernet - the economics and technical hurdles of individual applications will dictate solutions. 

      Consider the recent development of Ethernet’s latest speeds: 40 GbE and 100 GbE.  Fueled by different growth rates for different applications, it was realized that for Ethernet the tradition of only 10x speed jumps was no longer optimal.  And as the breadth of these families continues to expand the industry is preparing for the anticipated approval of the 400 GbE Study Group in early 2013 which will take Ethernet once again to the next speed.

      But Ethernet is more than just feeds and speeds.  Look at the evolution going on in the data center right now where consolidation, virtualization and convergence drive part of Ethernet’s ongoing development towards the cloud.  This is a key aspect of Ethernet, where evolution is on-going and continuing as new standards are constantly being introduced to further optimize Ethernet for whatever role it is expanding into. 

      However, having a large variety of solutions is ultimately pointless if interoperability is not ensured, tested, and demonstrated.   Members of the Ethernet Alliance and prior alliances have always understood the significance of such activities.  The Ethernet Alliance has conducted interoperability demonstrations at OFC, Interop, and SuperComputing, as well as its recent Terafabric Plugfest.  These events showed that a number of Ethernet technologies ranging from 10GbE to 40GbE to 100GbE were real and ready for deployment.  

      With Ethernet at the next critical junction in its lifecycle, as a refresh cycle based on 10GbE servers, 40GbE in the data center, and 100GbE fueling the carrier space, and the emergence of new applications, like cloud computing and server virtualization, it’s important to understand the current conditions within the Ethernet ecosystem and where things are going.  The development of Ethernet is driven by consensus, and it is important that all stakeholders be aware of its evolution.

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