Vendors push 10 gigabit Ethernet

3Com, Cisco, Nortel, Sun, and others banded together early this month to rally support for the successor to gigabit Ethernet for enterprise networks and the Internet.

The 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance is intended to promote the use of 10 Gigabit Ethernet for LAN, MAN, and WAN markets, and to drive support for the IEEE 802.3 10 Gigabit Ethernet standard, currently in development. The founders of the alliance hope their efforts will boost the capacity of Ethernet, which will be necessary to keep pace with bandwidth-hungry applications, such as voice and video, which are poised to surge in both the LAN and WAN. Currently, Ethernet is capable of reaching speeds of 1,000Mbps in LAN applications. 10 Gigabit Ethernet will allow network managers to scale networks to speeds as fast as 10,000Mbps.

According to one analyst, service providers and ISPs seeking to keep pace with ever-increasing Internet traffic, will be a key driver in the adoption 10 Gigabit Ethernet.

“In the business model for service providers and ISPs, they are willing to pay the high introductory prices that will let them get a competitive advantage, meaning the increased speed and throughput [of 10 Gigabit Ethernet],” said Todd Hanson, a senior analyst at Dataquest, in San Jose, Calif.

“10 Gigabit will be a play for service providers and for enterprises more for the metropolitan area network than for the LAN,” Hanson said. “Some of the service providers would really be aided in the point-of-presence connections that 10 Gig can allow for.”

“The service providers, ISPs, and enterprises see the value of 10 gig to allow big switch to big switch connections,” Hanson continued. “And 10 Gig will be really applicable for shorter distance connections where Packet over SONET isn’t appropriate. We think that 10 gig for the appropriate application will be cheaper than Packet over SONET.”

Although previous Ethernet standards were designed specifically for networking applications in LANs, the forthcoming standard for 10 Gigabit Ethernet will include MANs and WANs, which will allow service providers to establish high-speed link at low costs between carrier-class switches and routers.

Although analysts say 10 Gigabit Ethernet is still a few years out for the majority of enterprise networks, enterprises need begin preparations now, according to the alliance members.

“[10 Gigabit Ethernet] is going to be the next level in the bandwidth hierarchy,” said Edward Hopkins, technology marketing manager at 3Com, in Santa Clara, Calif. “One of the main reasons for the alliance is to promote industry awareness — what it is and what you need to do to prepare for it. We want to help customers plan ahead over the next few years.”

“Enterprises need to start paying attention in order to plan for it,” Hopkins said. “Whenever you go to a higher speed communication you need to set your cable plans to prepare for it.”

The IEEE’s authorization in January to create the 802.3ae Task Force marked the formal recognition of a group of approximately 70 companies that had been developing the next iteration of gigabit Ethernet since March 1999. The formation of the IEEE Task Force meant that the group had developed the necessary consensus for the scope, goals, and the technical feasibility of the project required to launch the standards process.

The task force expects to ratify a standard by the spring of 2002. Other founding companies in the alliance include Intel, Extreme Networks, and World Wide Packets.