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10-Gigabit Ethernet standard ratified

More than three years after it was initially proposed as a standard, 10-Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) has finally been ratified by the US Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

At a meeting in Washington the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance's (10GEA) proposed specification was approved as IEEE 802.3ae. Despite the milestone, early expectations for the adoption of 10GbE are still, at best, modest.

Analysts and vendors alike do not foresee the technology having a significant impact immediately but expect that in time, as the costs of components come down, 10GbE will prove relevant in both enterprises and in metropolitan areas.

Described as the next logical step for the Ethernet bandwidth hierarchy, 10GbE transmits at rates up to 10Gbps and can transmit at distances of 40 metres on a single mode fibre and up to 300 metres on multimode optical fibre.

In essence, 10GbE will increase the number of network connections and improve the speed of Ethernet, thus allowing enterprises and service providers alike to begin deploying more bandwidth-hungry applications such as disaster recovery and high-quality video.

Defined in the standard are: enhancements to the MAC (media access control), the sublayer responsible for moving packets from one NIC (network interface card) to the other; the PCS (physical coding sublayer), the layer that transmits the data over the network; and additional optional interfaces used for chip-to-chip interfaces, XGMII (10 Gigabit Media Independent Interface), XAUI (10 Gigabit Attachment Unit Interface), and XSBI (10 Gigabit Serial Bus Interface).

According to Val Oliva, a chair on The 10GEA's technical committee, the roadblock that will initially slow the adoption of 10GbE in the enterprise is the cost. "10GbE is still too expensive for the enterprises, especially because right now it is a capital expenditure," Oliva said. "But as the cost comes down, enterprises will become more interested."

Most enterprises today have neither the need nor the budget for so much bandwidth. But some anticipate a need in the near future.

"We're about a year away from deploying 10GbE, because frankly the server I/Os are not fast enough," said Matt Kesner, CTO at Fenwick & West, a California-based law firm primarily serving high-technology clients. "But it might be sooner if the price drops dramatically."

Once the cost comes down from around $17,000 a port today to $1,000 a port late next year - as estimated by Mark Fishburn, vice-president of technical strategy at Spirent Communications - and as bandwidth requirements increase, it is widely believed that 10GbE will first show up where 1Gb or faster links are required today.

Fishburn predicts that using 10GbE, rather than multiple Gigabit links, will boost performance significantly. "Where there is link aggregation, 10GbE will deliver good performance immediately," he said.

Additionally, enterprises with heavy storage requirements are likely to adopt 10GbE early. Singling out IP-based storage, Oliva said that 10GbE is excellent for bandwidth-intensive applications such as disaster recovery or backup over the WAN.

However, the immediate market for 10GbE is clearly in MANs (metropolitan area network). Providers offering Ethernet services today in the MAN are looking at 10GbE technology, Fishburn said.

Fishburn said that because 10GbE is compatible with existing SONet (Synchronous Optical Network)-based OC-192c systems, service providers will probably use the technology when their bandwidth demands increase. "With IP traffic growth still being forecasted to grow 100% year-on-year, service providers will increasingly turn to 10GbE as it is significantly cheaper than SONet-based systems," Fishburn said.

He estimated that a OC-192c SONet system today costs approximately $200,000 per port and that 10GbE vendors are talking about $40,000 to $60,000 per port late next year. "Gigabit pricing went down rapidly and we anticipate 10GbE pricing to do the same," Fishburn said.

A slew of vendors have already announced the availability and interoperability of NICs (network interface cards) and components for the creation of 10GbE systems.

Earlier this month at Supercomm, the annual communication and networking conference, Infineon Technologies introduced two 10GbE XAUI-to-serial transceivers, the TenGiPHY-W and TenGiPHY-L. These devices were developed to reside in 10GbE line cards, Ethernet backbones, storage network interface cards, and terabit routers.

Additionally, Alcatel introduced a new 10Gb multimode fibre, dubbed GLight. According to the company the new fibre can deliver throughput as fast as 10Gbps over distances as far as 300 meters.

More than 20 vendors demonstrated the interoperability of 10GbE with 20 network devices including switches, test equipment, components, and fibre optics.

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