100Gbps Ethernet is coming

Telecoms industry is pushing for a tenfold increase in performance by the end of the decade
Written by Richard Thurston, Contributor on

Technical experts have started to develop a new standard for Ethernet which will run at 100Gbps.

The advancement is a tenfold increase on the highest Ethernet speeds possible today. 10Gbps Ethernet is used across wide area networks and a limited number of corporate data centres. 100Gbps speeds will first run over telecoms carriers' fibre-optic networks, then it is likely to be adopted into data centres. It's most likely to be available at the start of the next decade.

International standards body IEEE has been at the heart of the 100Gbps standard proposals, and late last month it gave the development its official support.

Some network equipment vendors had argued for 40Gbps, 80Gbps and 120Gbps speeds, in line with the speed of SDH (synchronous digital hierarchy), which is a legacy telecoms standard. But Ethernet has been designed around factors of 10, all the way from its first incarnation at 10Mbps in the 1970s.

"The decision by the [IEEE's standards] group continues to validate the industry's belief in Ethernet's long tradition of increasing speed in increments of 10," said Lucinda Borovick, a director at global analyst firm IDC.

As always with Ethernet, the distance at which packets can accurately be sent will be constrained. The IEEE is aiming for a range of 100m if multimode fibre is used, and 10km if single mode fibre is used. But challenges remain over power and heat issues, both of which have increased noticeably with faster Ethernet speeds.

US reseachers demonstrated 100Gbps Ethernet transmission at the Super Computing Show in Tampa. They sent a 100Gbps stream to Houston — but cheated somewhat in dicing the stream into 10Gbps signals.

Network equipment supporting 100Gbps Ethernet is likely to be available around 2009 or 2010, according to John D'Ambrosia, chair of the IEEE working group. 100Gbps networks would be deployed shortly afterwards.

The IEEE will first concentrate on 100Gbps over fibre, and it hasn't been decided whether the speed will be possible over copper.

The current maximum of 10Gbps has been deployed by a small number of companies in the UK. Fidelity Investments and Somerfield, the supermarket chain, have both installed 10Gbps cabling — using copper — in their data centres.

10Gbps over copper encountered considerable design problems with interference between cables, although most of those have been resolved.

The vast majority of companies currently use either 1Gbps or 10/100Mbps Ethernet networks.

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