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Microsoft and Google propose 25Gbps and 50Gbps Ethernet networks for cloud datacentres

Archana Venkatraman

Technology giants including Microsoft and Google have formed a consortium to fire up datacentre networks’ speed and performance to deliver cloud-scale infrastructure. 

The cloud providers are pressing ahead to create standards for datacentre networks to run over a 25 or 50 Gigabit per second (Gbps) Ethernet link protocol.

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The companies involved believe cloud-based workloads will quickly surpass the current capacity of 10 or 40Gbps Ethernet links deployed today.

Gigabit Ethernet, the backbone of enterprise networks, is a transmission technology based on the Ethernet frame format and protocol used in local area networks (LANs). It provides a data rate of 1 billion bits (one gigabit) per second.

The consortium hopes to deliver technologies based on the new datacentre network standards in 12 to 18 months. It will make the new standards available “royalty-free” to any datacentre ecosystem provider or consumer that joins the group.

Flexibility and cost

With 25Gbps and 50Gbps Ethernet in their networks, megascale datacentre builders such as Microsoft expect to reduce capital and operating expenditure. “The new Ethernet speeds give superior flexibility in matching future workloads with network equipment and cabling, with the option to ‘scale-as-you-go’,” said Yousef Khalidi, Microsoft engineer.

“The specification published by the 25 Gigabit Ethernet Consortium maximises the bandwidth flexibility of the datacentre network while leveraging many of the same fundamental technologies and behaviours already defined by the IEEE 802.3 standard.”

The consortium aims to have an industry-standard, interoperable Ethernet specification that boosts the performance and slashes the interconnect cost per Gbps between the server network interface controller (NIC) and top-of-rack (TOR) switch.

Next-generation cloud

The group has proposed a single-lane 25Gbps Ethernet and dual-lane 50Gbps Ethernet link protocol to enable up to 2.5 times higher performance per physical lane.

The consortium includes other datacentre and cloud network players such as Broadcom, Mellanox and Arista Networks. According to them, the Ethernet specification will help the network bandwidth to scale up to infrastructure in a cost-efficient manner.

“The companies joining the 25 Gigabit Ethernet Consortium are taking a major step forward in increasing the performance of datacentre networks,” said Anshul Sadana, senior vice-president, customer engineering, Arista Networks. “With ever-increasing server performance and with the uplinks from the leaf to the spine layer migrating to 100Gbps in the near future, it makes sense to increase the access speed from 10Gbps to 25Gbps and 50Gbps.”

Google, Microsoft and others in the consortium are keen to immediately set an industry standard definition of the 25Gbps and 50Gbps Ethernet physical layer (PHY) and media access control layer (MAC) behavior to enable the swift rollout of 25Gbps and 50Gbps Ethernet-compliant technologies.

The growth in big data mandates faster and more efficient interconnect technologies, said Michael Kagan, CTO of Mellanox Technologies. According to the group, 25 and 50 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) serves a focused market requirement for next-generation, performance- and cost-optimised technologies


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