10 Gigabit Ethernet Put To Test

Eighteen vendors of 10G Ethernet products contributed their wares for a demonstration of the technology at NetWorld+Interop 2001 in Atlanta last week, in an effort to show the network industry that prestandard 10G technology can successfully communicate.

The product test fest was hosted by the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance (10GEA) industry group and was billed as more of a general product demonstration than a proving ground to show whose products worked and whose did not, so results on vendor-to-vendor interoperability were not released. Even so, demo organizers say the showing of 10G products proves to enterprise and carrier users that 10Gbps Ethernet is ready for deployment and that the technology’s hefty price tag could drop soon, thanks to advancements being made in optical interface and 10G chip technologies.

Major Gigabit Ethernet switch vendors that participated in the demo included Avaya Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., Extreme Networks Inc., Foundry Networks Inc. and Nortel Networks Corp. All of these switch vendors have announced 10G products that are supposed to ship by year-end, except for Extreme, which has not yet specified a shipping date or price for its product. Component and testing equipment makers represented at the demonstration included Agilent Technologies, Broadcom and PMC-Sierra.

“The focus was getting the vendors to play together and to get traffic flowing,” over 10G connections, says Bob Grow, chair of the 10GEA and an Intel engineer.

Instead of just connecting all the vendors’ 10G switches together in one large 10Gbps mesh, the switches were set up in a mixture of topologies, with some switches aggregating multiple Gigabit connections and a few connecting to each other over 10G links.

Five of the seven vendors’ switches in the demonstration were able to talk to each other over 10G links, according to Grow.

“This demo should give potential customers confidence in looking at technology – confidence that it’s really Ethernet and it’s really plug and play,” Grow says.

Products demonstrated included Avaya’s Cajun P550, Extreme’s BlackDiamond, Cisco’s Catalyst 6500, Foundry’s NetIron and Nortel’s PassPort 8600. All the boxes are currently shipping backbone switches that were fitted with 10G Ethernet blades.

One chip technology that showed successful interoperability was the 10G Attachment Unit Interface (XAUI) chipset. XAUI – pronounced “zowie” – is an alternative version of the 10G standard draft that specifies how optical transceivers and silicon on a 10G board communicate. Specifically, the technology outlines how to reduce the number of pins on the physical interface of a 10G module from 72 to 16 pins. While this may sound esoteric, “the more things you can pack onto a board, the cheaper it will be,” Grow says. “The message here is that [XAUI] presents a path for driving down costs for 10 Gigabit Ethernet.”

Grow estimates that XAUI technology could cause the per-port price of 10G Ethernet to drop by as much as 80 per cent during the next few years. (Prices for announced 10 Gigabit products range from US$20,000 to US$80,000 per port.)

While many who observed the multivendor demonstration were impressed, according to Grow, other industry watchers say it will take more to spur widespread 10G adoption.

“Demonstrating interoperability is fine, but enterprise customers are going to need something to scare them into using it because there’s no real reason to deploy it just yet,” says Robin Layland, principal consultant at Layland Consulting in West Hartford, Conn. “Technology such as network-attached storage could drive users to 10G, it certainly could use the bandwidth.”

And while advancements – such as XAUI – may help bring down 10G costs, other concerns about the technology still remain.

“10G Ethernet still needs a lot of the carrier-class technology built in to it, and my main question about it is when all that redundancy, etc., is finally in there, will 10G Ethernet still be inexpensive? At this point that’s not clear,” says Michael Walsh, president of the Frame Relay Forum.