New chips, stack slashes Ethernet latency -

New chips, stack slashes Ethernet latency

A new generation of chips and software in the works promises to slash Ethernet latencies down to single-digit microseconds, opening up a wide range of uses in cars, factory-floor robots, power plants and even in the home. 

The standards are far enough along that chip makers are beginning to design the small modifications needed into their media access controllers. Open source versions of the protocol suite should be available ahead of the silicon, and test suites are expected to be ready before the end of next year.

“We’ve got a whole new software stack now, and we need to use it — hence this conference,” said Michael Johas Teener, a technical director at Broadcom in a keynote talk to about a hundred engineers gathered at an event here to discuss the technology. “Now we can use [Ethernet] everywhere…from industrial control all the way to desktop,” said Teener, who has been driving standards in the area since 2005.

A former lead developer of the Firewire interconnect, Teener suggested, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the new techniques could replace everything from MOST in cars to USB in PCs and HDMI on TVs. “All this should be the same,” he said.

The new techniques are a follow on to Audio Video Bridging (AVB), a variation of Ethernet driven in part by professional audio companies that cuts latencies to about 250 microseconds per switch. The new chips and software promise to slash the latencies to as little as a single microsecond per hop on a gigabit Ethernet network.

The chips need an “insignificant number of new gates,” Teener said. However, vendors will have to conform to a new standard protocol suite, something they have been slow to embrace to date.

For example, in the pro audio field, vendors are just now starting to be able to connect AVB systems from different vendors. They are making the links thanks in part to certification tests from the AVnu Alliance, a 100-member group now working on the tests for industrial systems.

The new software will be a follow on to Open AVB, an open source version of the existing code. Open AVB is “fairly complete for end points but not ready for prime-time intermediate systems such as routers and switches–that’s still proprietary,” Teener said.

Pro audio specialists are currently using AVB switches from vendors such as Arista, Extreme and Netgear. Cisco Systems has not announced AVB switches yet, and some pro audio specialists at the event worried aloud the networking giant might develop a proprietary switch for time-sensitive uses.

At the event, a representative from General Electric gave talks on using the new Ethernet capabilities in industrial controls and power plants. A senior developer from Kuka GmbH talked about its uses in factory robots.

One presenter talked about using the technology to distribute music and video stream through the home. Another described it enabling a 1,200-person theater with stereo sound and a subwoofer to every seat.

The 'baggy pants' architecture requires only a few gates (in blue) in a media access controller.

The “baggy pants” architecture requires only a few gates (in blue) in a media access controller.

Next page: Next big leap—picosecond delays

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