Interop does Ethernet many ways -

Interop does Ethernet many ways


SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Ethernet Alliance will demonstrate and discuss versions of Ethernet with faster speeds, lower power and new features at the annual Interop show in Las Vegas this week. They have also kicked off talks aiming to rally support for a 40G serial Ethernet standard.

The efforts show Ethernet is moving forward on several fronts despite the economic downturn which could lower spending on the technology as much as 20 percent in 2009. “Even in a downturn, Ethernet shows signs of growth with new technologies and new markets,” said Brad Booth, chairman of the board of the Ethernet Alliance, an industry group promoting the technology.

The Ethernet Alliance is sponsoring demos of three technologies aimed to advance today's 10 Gbit/second Ethernet. The technology has been slow to take off to date in part due to the power and cost of silicon as well as the need for new copper cabling.

The Alliance will show for the first time silicon from three vendors supporting 10GBase-T, the specification for running Ethernet up to 100 meters at 10Gbits/s over enhanced copper cables. The demo includes transceivers from startups Aquantia, Solarflare and Teranetics.

Having chips from three vendors “is a good sign we are getting more of these parts and players into the market and people getting to power numbers that are getting into the sweet spot,” said Booth.

Today's transceivers consume more than 5W power. Aquantia announced earlier this month it is working on a 40nm design that could hit 2.5-3W in a chip it hopes to sample late this year.

Some say it will require 32nm process technology to get the chips down to the 1-2W level needed to be used on mainstream motherboards. Power requirements for 10GBase-T “depend on who you are talking to,” Booth said. “If they can get 2.5-3W range that's pretty viable,” he added.

Broadcom has announced 10GBase-T parts, and Marvell is believed to be designing silicon for the spec. “It would be awesome if we could show four or five vendors” with silicon in demos late this year, Booth said.

On the optical side, the Alliance will also demonstrate SFP+ modules at Interop. The modules aim to deliver a lower cost, power and size optical link for 10G Ethernet and 8Gbit/s Fibre Channel.

A final vote on the SFP+ spec could be taken in June, opening the door the modules that can pack as many as 48 10G ports in a 1U-sized chassis, Booth said.

The Alliance also will demo systems using a pre-standard version of the Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) specification for running Fibre Channel storage traffic over Ethernet, typically at 10Gbit speeds. The demo uses a reference design from Fulcrum as an FCoE switch linked to a storage array from NetApp, a new member of the Alliance.

Separately, Infiniband chip maker Mellanox Technologies will demo what it calls Low-latency Ethernet at Interop. It uses a 10G interconnect with Infiniband-like RDMA characteristics to reduce latency to three microseconds, aiming at uses such as FCoE.

“Low latency Ethernet enables end users to derive tangible performance benefits from transaction intensive applications while reducing power and consolidating their SAN (FCoE) and LAN (10GbE) traffic on lossless 10 Gigabit Ethernet,” said Michael Kagan, chief technologist of Mellanox in a press statement.

The FCoE standard is based on enhancements to the Fibre Channel spec by the T11 committee as well as complex work to create a lossless version of Ethernet as a transport. The later work handled by the IEEE 802.1 group is still in process and may not get ratified until next year.

The Ethernet Alliance is working with a handful of other technologies that are in an early phase of development and not yet ready for demos on the Interop show floor. They include a standard for so-called Energy Efficient Ethernet (EEE) that requires a new physical layer chip as well as adjustments to higher-layer protocols.

The IEEE 802.3az group may have a version of that spec approved by its working group as early as July. That could trigger work on silicon that could emerge six to nine months later, Booth said.

Most of the EEE chips will likely target 10G, but “a few vendors may have stuff in lower speeds late this year,” said Booth. “We expect it will take until mid-2010 before we have public demos,” he added.

The next big leap for Ethernet is to 40G and 100G versions being created by the IEEE 802.3ba group. The Alliance hopes multiple vendors will have products ready to demonstrate as early as next March.

The .3ba group met in Quebec City earlier this month to resolve nearly 800 comments made to its draft spec. “That was actually less than we were expecting for our first working-group ballot,” said John D'Ambrosia, a component technology scientist for Force 10 Networks who chairs 802.3ba.

A new version of the draft could be available as early as June, and the Alliance is beginning to look at testing and certification programs for it. “People are already looking at how to do this stuff using FPGAs,” D'Ambrosia said.

“There's a lot of people building silicon to it,” said Booth. “A lot of the spec was based on work in 10G, and building off that makes life a lot easier,” he added.

Systems vendors hope to have products ready for telcos and data centers to test by the end of the year. But “most people are very, very quiet about where they are” with their 40/100G products, Booth said.

Like 10G, the 40/100G specs are targeted at servers, switches and other systems used in big data centers and carrier networks. Nevertheless, D'Ambrosia said the effort was launched with more participation from end users than the previous gigabit generation.

Separately, the Ethernet Alliance has started discussions on the need for a 40G serial standard for Ethernet. It is aimed at creating a way for carriers to link their existing optical backbone nets to their growing Ethernet infrastructure. AT&T and Verizon recently joined the Alliance in part due to their interest in such work.

“We are hearing a lot of feedback from carriers that this would make their life easier and they would like IEEE to sponsor it,” Booth said.

The Alliance has sponsored one meeting on the topic to date. The discussions are aimed at gathering interest and ideas for a project that could be formally launched as a call for interest, spawning a study inside the IEEE perhaps as early as November, Booth suggested.

“Most people are looking at adding a new physical media dependent sub-layer specifying a new optical module,” said Booth, but they have yet to define their distance requirements. “The key is not solving the problem, but getting enough people to agree forming a study group is a good idea,” he said.

The 802.3ab draft 2.0 supports 40 Gbit Ethernet using four fibres over 100 meters or four wavelengths for distances over 10 kilometers.

“I want to see this [40G serial work] happen for the continuing evolution of Ethernet, however it needs to be balanced with the existing 40G work,” said D'Ambrosia. “I think the earliest kickoff for an IEEE effort would be November this year or March next year.

“You have to be aware of doing it too soon,” he said. “I already have people talking to me about terabit Ethernet,” a concept that could be launched as an IEEE project as early as November 2011, he added.

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