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The Next Era of Ethernet

6 months ago
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The Next Era of Ethernet Image Credit: Ethernet Alliance

Initially an enterprise solution, Ethernet has become the ubiquitous networking connection. It is in the midst of a developmental renaissance never seen before. While It took 35 years to jump from 10 Mb/s to 100 Gb/s with steps in-between at 100 Mb/s, 1 Gb/s, 10 Gb/s, 40 Gb/s, it took the industry only the last five years to introduce 2.5 Gb/s, 5 Gb/s, 25 Gb/s, 50 Gb/s, 200 Gb/s, and 400 Gb/s. With each speed a host of physical layer specifications were introduced, ranging from cm of copper traces between chips and optical modules, to backplanes, to copper twin-axial cables, to 100m of multi-mode fiber, to hundreds and thousands of km of single-mode fiber.

The IEEE 802.3™ Ethernet Working Group’s completion of the standards that defines these physical layer specifications is only the first step that the industry will take in the successful deployment of all of these new technologies. It is now up to the eco-system to take these solutions and prove to the industry that they are ready for adoption and deployment. That is where the Ethernet Alliance comes in.

The Ethernet Alliance is the premiere Ethernet marketing alliance, providing the industry with a vendor-neutral voice as Ethernet’s expansion throughout the world has been never ending. It’s real mission is the resources it provides to the investment of testing and proving out multi-vendor interoperability. Its true strength lies in the diversity of its membership, as the organization is compromised of IC companies, interconnect companies, and system vendors, providing an eco-system perspective to the challenge of multi-vendor interoperability. Its members work together with a single-minded determination of ensuring the industry can always count on the multi-vendor interoperability that has been the hallmark of Ethernet.

Over the past 18 months, Ethernet standards for 2.5, 5, 25, 200, and 400 Gb/s have been ratified. In the coming year 50 Gb/s will be introduced and the families of these new speeds will be expanded with new physical layer specifications. Below are various perspectives from members of the Ethernet Alliance.

David Rodgers, Marketing Chair, Ethernet Alliance and Senior Product Marketing Manager, Teledyne Le Croy

The coming year promises to present new challenges to the Ethernet ecosystem with respect to effective Test and Measurement tools and practices. The ratification and adoption of new specifications for 50 Gigabit Ethernet interconnects marks a fundamental change in signaling technology. Hardware engineering teams will need to consider the implications of this in order to achieve consistent and reliable links. The inclusion of “protocol aware” tools will become standard and potentially create basic interoperability and connectivity challenges to be addressed. New storage protocols, like NVMe over Fabrics, will enable Ethernet to offer near lossless data transfer and allow for more seamless integration of both local and remote storage appliances. Higher speeds and feeds will bring about new connection options, although copper will remain “king” within the datacenter racks. The use of optical transceivers will grow more prevalent for Ethernet communications in response to campus and metro area applications. We’ll witness the deployment of new optical interfaces, which will ensure reliable communications at new, higher data rates. In short, the Test and Measurement community will advance new and more comprehensive tools to enable the rapid development and deployment of Ethernet products leveraging the new speeds, connectivity options, and applications.

Greg McSorley, President, Ethernet Alliance and Technical Business Development Manager, Amphenol

Looking ahead to 2018 it appears we will see another exciting year in the world of Gigabit (Gb) Ethernet interconnect. Between the latest projects finishing up and the new projects beginning at even higher speeds and multiple lanes, we have new interconnect needs in the 25Gb, 50Gb, 100Gb, 200Gb and 400Gb speeds. Is 800Gb or 1Tb far behind? The number of multi-source agreements forming to study different optical modules and copper cable form factors is growing quickly. These form factors will accommodate optical modules, AOC’s (Active Optical Cables) and DAC’s (Direct Attach copper Cables). There are even on-board optics waiting in the wings to enter the fray. We expect to see standards and specification work finishing up and companies begin to design to the standards and offer new products based on them throughout the year. While some form factors are complimentary in their use over multiple speeds and applications, some will be in direct competition for the same application space; making for a very interesting time for Ethernet interconnects.

John D’Ambrosia, Chairman, Ethernet Alliance and Senior Principal Engineer, Futurewei, a subsidiary of Huawei

John D' Ambrosia,
Chairman,
Ethernet Alliance

The next era of Ethernet is upon us. For the past 5 years, the development of IEEE 802.3 Ethernet standards has happened at an unprecedented pace. Now it is time to take these standards and bring them into the real world! And with the drive to support greater bandwidth spread throughout the eco-system – we should expect to see a tremendous demand for the tools, components, and solutions that will enable entire eco-system, such as EDA tools, T&M, cabling, optics, and systems.

The industry wants industry confidence in the interoperability of Ethernet technologies and standards. The sheer volume of new standards and technologies will escalate the focus in this area. Of particular interest will be the introduction of PAM4 modulation, which provides the basis for 50 Gb/s electrical and optical signaling. Vendors will invest in multil-vendor plugfests and demonstrations that showcase the successful validation of the multi-vendor interoperability of these latest Ethernet solutions.

Nonetheless, as the industry look forward to the deployment of these latest solutions into so many application spaces, we can not lose sight of the fact that developing new Ethernet solutions is never-ending. For example, right now the IEEE is considering developing 40km optical solutions for 50GbE, 200GbE, and 400GbE to address growing bandwidth demand in mobile backhaul networks. Just another step in the never-ending evolutionary saga of Ethernet!

About The Author:
John D’Ambrosia is known in the industry for his efforts as Ethernet’s advocate. In his role as a Senior Principal Engineer at Huawei, he participates in industry standards efforts that are driving Ethernet’s on-going evolution and its move to higher speeds. Currently, he chairs the IEEE P802.3bs 400GbE Task Force, is a member of the IEEE 802 Executive Committee, and chairs the IEEE 802.3 Industry Connections Next Generation Enterprise / Data Center / Campus (ECDC) Ad Hoc, a forum for exploring new ideas for Ethernet standards. Previously, he chaired the IEEE 802.3ba Task Force that developed 40GbE and 100GbE. He is the Chairman of the Ethernet Alliance, an organization dedicated to the promotion of all Ethernet technologies, and a popular blogger on Ethernet matters. In 2013 D’Ambrosia was awarded the IEEE-SA 2013 Standards Medallion and was inducted into the Light Reading Hall of Fame. His previous experience includes Dell, Force10 Networks, and Tyco Electronics.

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