40-Gigabit Ethernet may be next

The top speed of Ethernet could hit 40G bps (bits per second) within the next two years, a senior Cisco Systems Inc. executive said Wednesday.

Developing 40-Gigabit Ethernet would pose less steep technical challenges than creating a 100-Gigabit Ethernet technology, which would be the next mathematical step, according to Luca Cafiero, senior vice president and general manager of switching, voice and storage at Cisco. In fact, 40-Gigabit Ethernet should be technically feasible within two years, he told reporters and analysts at an educational briefing on switching at Cisco’s headquarters in San Jose, Calif.

Since its origin in 1973, Ethernet has evolved from an invention for stringing together PCs at 4M bps to the mainstay of corporate LANs, with switches delivering 10M bps, 100M bps, 1G bps or 10G bps of dedicated bandwidth. Speeds of 1G bps and higher also are being deployed across metropolitan areas. Cafiero and other Cisco executives at the event saluted the technology’s 30th birthday, which is coming up next week. The comments by Cafiero, himself an Ethernet pioneer who co-founded seminal LAN switch vendor Crescendo Communications Inc., provided a glimpse into its future.

A key factor for the success of each new speed of Ethernet now is its cost per bit, added Andy Bechtolsheim, vice president and general manager of the Gigabit Systems Business Unit at Cisco. Each new Ethernet technology should offer users a lower cost per bit-per-second of speed than did the last one, he said.

Cisco’s flagship chassis-based enterprise switch line, the Catalyst 6500 Series, already can support 40G bps per interface card with the recently introduced Supervisor Engine 720, which boosts total switching capacity to 720G bps per chassis. Cisco could make a one-port 40G bps module for a 6500 with the Supervisor Engine 720, Cafiero said.

He did not project when there might be a demand for such a module, but noted that some research facilities already are starting to work with 10G bps connections to desktops. As the speed of connections to individual clients increases, the “uplinks” that feed the aggregate traffic of many clients up to the backbone of a network tends to follow suit.

Cafiero also said he believes the Catalyst 6500 platform’s per-module capacity of 40G bps could be doubled, but the timing of that speed boost will be determined by customer demand.