Intel unveils 10-Gigabit Ethernet

Intel Corp. on May 7 looked toward the future of both wired and wireless networking, unveiling a 10-Gigabit Ethernet network interface card and dual-mode IEEE 802.11 wireless LAN products at a news conference at the NetWorld+Interop conference in Las Vegas.

The Intel PRO/10GbE LR Server Adapter is a product of massive investment and acquisitions by Intel aimed at optical fibre as the high-speed connection of the future in large enterprise and service-provider networks, said Sean Maloney, vice-president and general manager of Intel’s Communications Group. By the same token, the company is dedicating its wireless development resources toward components and devices that can support multiple versions of standard 802.11 technology.

The 10-Gigabit Ethernet technology is the next step in the development of Ethernet and is expected to play a large role in metropolitan networks. It will also become necessary on corporate backbones as Gigabit Ethernet is deployed at desktops and wireless LAN users spend more time online, Maloney said. Because 10-Gigabit Ethernet exceeds the capacity of copper wire at less than about 50 feet (15 metres), Intel needs to address optical technology in order to keep on top of Ethernet, he added. The Santa Clara, Calif., chip giant is the world’s largest maker of Ethernet components, Maloney said.

Intel’s 10-Gigabit Ethernet card was built using mostly Intel components, including technology it acquired with the purchase last year of LightLogic Inc. that largely automates the alignment of a fibre with a laser, according to Caroline Larson, a product marketing official in Intel’s 10-Gigabit group. Intel expects it to ship to equipment vendors in volume in the third quarter of this year. It is running in servers in 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance interoperability demonstrations this week at the show, Maloney said.

The card connects to the system through a PCI-X interface, which at 600Gbps is not as fast as the network connection. Future I/O technologies such as PCI Express will make better use of 10-Gigabit Ethernet, Maloney said in an interview after the news conference.

The adapter is most likely to be used in large enterprise servers, such as database servers, Maloney said. He expects 10-Gigabit Ethernet to be integrated into server motherboards “extensively” in the next 12 months. In addition, the components of the adapter, which Intel says is the first single-chip 10-Gigabit Ethernet adapter, could be used in an uplink interface for a Gigabit Ethernet switch. Intel will sell the technology to network device makers as well as to server vendors.

Intel’s investment in optical technology, including most of the US$9 billion worth of acquisitions the company has made over the past 15 to 24 months, is aimed at a vision of fibre as the future of LANs. Within five to seven years, 10-Gigabit Ethernet will come to desktop systems across enterprises, Maloney said.

The industry is likely to standardize on two kinds of fibre, according to Maloney: 1310-nanometre fibre like that used in the adapter unveiled May 7, and 850-nanometre fibre like that used today in Fibre Channel networks. The 1310-nanometre “single-mode” fibre, which can carry a signal up to 2 kilometres but is difficult to install, will be used mostly for WAN links, he said. The 850-nanometre “multimode” fibre reaches 300 metres but can be installed in much the same way as current Category 5 Ethernet cabling.

Multimode fibre is the successor to Category 5 cabling for connections within a floor of an office, mostly because of the ease of installation, Maloney said.

“You can’t have super-expensive technicians doing this stuff,” he said.

Also May 7, Intel introduced an access point and a chip set that support both 11Mbps 802.11b and 54Mbps 802.11a wireless LANs. The growing base of 802.11b networks and the potential of 802.11a mean users will demand dual-speed clients and access points for wireless connectivity in many locations, Maloney said.

The Intel PRO/Wireless 5000 LAN Dual Band Access Point, based on a chip set from Atheros Communications Inc., will ship in about 30 days, Maloney said. The company also showed off its first internally developed dual-band chip set, which Intel expects will ship in devices by year’s end.

Intel hopes to support the emerging 802.11g standard, which would offer more carrying capacity in the same frequency band as 802.11b, without a hardware upgrade. The chip set was designed with 802.11g support in mind, he said.

Gigabit Ethernet also made a leap toward the mainstream as Intel announced availability of a Gigabit Ethernet network interface card for desktop PCs priced the same as a 10/100Mbps Ethernet adapter, at US$59. The company also announced the availability of five other Gigabit Ethernet adapters. Meanwhile, Intel said Dell Computer Corp. will offer Gigabit Ethernet standard on the motherboards of future OptiPlex desktop PCs.

NetWorld+Interop continues through May 10.