100G Ethernet to the masses

The IEEE's latest project could significantly ramp up the speed of traffic delivery across the Internet. In November, the IEEE's Higher Speed Study Group announced it was working to create a 100G Ethernet standard and subsequently has laid out a tentative timeline for benchmarks along the way, including the development of a formalized task force by the middle of this year and delivery of the final spec by 2010. While these goals seem attainable, the study group members are in a race against time to accommodate the increasing demands of content creators and consumers around the world. I recently spoke with John D'Ambrosia, chairman of the study group and scientist of components technology at Force10 Networks, about the impact 100G Ethernet will have on the network industry.

What is driving the need for 100G Ethernet? There are many applications where you're seeing the need for 100G emerging. Some examples are Internet exchanges, carriers and high-performance computing. You're also seeing a need when you look at what's happening with personalized content, which includes video delivery such as YouTube, IPTV and HDTV. There's also video on demand. All of this together is driving the need for 100G Ethernet.

Consumers are also contributing to this. For instance, people have digital cameras that churn out large files that they want to share across the Internet. Content-generation capabilities are increasing rapidly at both the professional and consumer level. This is creating a basic ecosystem problem -- people are sharing content at a higher level, and all of that has to feed into today's pipes.

Is there enough bandwidth today to meet the needs of businesses, content providers and consumers? You do have 10G Ethernet already, and if you use link aggregation -- which allows you to pool your 10G links to create a bigger pipe -- you can go higher. But bandwidth needs are quickly surpassing these bandwidth limits.

When we did an analysis to check the viability of a 100G Ethernet standard, we found that the top supercomputers could already use that much bandwidth today.

However, these standards are not something you whip out in 18 months. Right now we're trying to define what will be in the 100G project. That's a time-consuming process -- you have to create baseline proposals, develop the spec and get comments. We have to go through the document and make sure we got everything right.