Nortel box to link servers to 10G-bps optical ethernet

The standard for 10G-bps (bits per second) Ethernet hasn’t been ratified, yet the largest networking equipment makers continue to march forward to test products, as Nortel Networks Inc. is now doing with its 10-Gigabit Ethernet Optical Adapter for Servers.

Nortel’s optical adapter increases 10-fold the speed at which most current servers can pass data to and from other servers on a network, said Tim Bensch, business and marketing manager for Nortel’s 10G Ethernet team in its optical division.

Increases in speed in other parts of networks create a bottleneck at the server, he said. “The speeds in the long haul and metropolitan (networks) are going up. One gigabit is being installed and implemented everywhere,” Bensch said. “We’ve got to make that (server) pipe bigger.”

Hewlett-Packard Co. currently is in what Bensch called an alpha-test of the adapter, using it with its Superdome and 9000 series servers. Nortel will release beta-test samples in the fourth quarter, and Bensch said it expects to roll out the finished product in the first half of next year.

Nortel’s aggressive development of a 10G Ethernet product is a wager of sorts, betting that the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.) 802.3ae working group will settle on the current version of the 10G specification under consideration for the network technology. The 10G Ethernet standard is expected to publish the approved standard in March 2002.

10G Ethernet is built on the Ethernet technology used in LANs, but is designed for all-optical environments. It can transmit data over 100 to 300 metres of multimode fibre-optic cable and as far as two to 40 kilometres over single-mode fibre. The technology allows data to be transferred at a comparably cheaper rate for the volume.

Bensch pledged that Nortel would come out with a standards-compliant product. He noted that standards bodies have been affected before by major equipment makers coming out with products while the standards engineers are deliberating, but added: “It’s not unheard of, but it’s not our intention,” he said.

Nortel isn’t alone in the rush to 10G Ethernet. At the NetWorld+Interop forum in Las Vegas earlier in May, Foundry Networks Inc. announced a 10G Ethernet module for its BigIron backbone switch, Avaya Inc. displayed a 10G blade server, and Cisco Systems Inc., revealed it has plans for 10G products soon.

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