10 Gigabit Ethernet approved

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.’s 802.3 Ethernet standards group approved the final draft of the 10 Gigabit Ethernet standard on Wednesday, clearing the way for vendors to begin shipping non-proprietary 10G bit/sec products.

While products based on 10 Gigabit Ethernet technology have been on the market for almost a year, the official go-ahead gives enterprise firms and carriers assurance that products based on the standard can easily interoperate – the hallmark of Ethernet technology, standards crafters say.

The latest iteration of the Ethernet standard, 10 Gigabit Ethernet moves data over single- and multi-mode fiber 10 times faster than the current Gigabit Ethernet standard, with a range between 65 meters and 40 kilometers.

Three years in the making, the IEEE 802.3ae standard was more difficult than previous Gigabit Ethernet and Fast Ethernet standards efforts, says Jonathan Thatcher, chair of the IEEE 802.3ae Working Group and CTO of Worldwide Packets.

“Technically, no question, when we started this project we knew that optics [or physical connectivity] would be the most challenging aspect because we didn’t have any other technologies to borrow from,” Thatcher says. While Fast Ethernet borrowed much of its parts from FDDI, and Gigabit Ethernet stole from Fibre Channel, 10 Gigabit Ethernet pretty much had to start from scratch.

This led to a few bumps along the way, Thatcher says, and his group missed the target date for approval by three months. Stumbling blocks included delays in getting standard-specified optical components from parts makers and issues over the test methodology for clocking 10G bit/sec Ethernet accurately.

Vendors with 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches either shipping or announced include Cisco Systems Inc., Enterasys Networks Inc., Extreme Networks Inc., Foundry Networks Inc., Nortel Networks Corp. and Force10 Networks Inc. These switch vendors, along with 18 other component and testing companies, displayed 10 Gigabit Ethernet interoperability at the recent NetWorld+Interop and SuperComm trade shows in Las Vegas and Atlanta, respectively.

With prices hovering around US$40,000 to $100,000 per port, 10 Gigabit Ethernet will remain mostly a carrier technology for the next few years, Thatcher says. But this is a unique aspect about the technology, he adds.

“One of the things that’s interesting about this project is that… this is the first technology the [IEEE] did in Ethernet where we specifically designed it to go beyond the boundaries of the LAN,” he says. Even when he was involved in the crafting of the Gigabit standard in the late 1990s, the standard was always seen as a LAN technology. “10 Gigabit Ethernet was designed to take Ethernet end to end over a wide area network.”

With the standards process now complete, Thatcher gives credit to the 300-plus engineers from dozens of companies who developed the technology.

“I would say this is one of the best teams, if not the best team ever organized to do a standards project,” he says. “Guys who worked on this stuff put in more time than their respective companies know about, and certainly more time than their companies would have been willing to fund.”