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What’s all this talk about a rate debate?

By Paul Nikolich

By Paul Nikolich, Chairman, IEEE 802 LMSC

802 LMSC Standards: market relevant, high quality and transparent– what a combination!

One of the characteristics that distinguish the 802 LAN/MAN Standards Committee (LMSC) is its ability to respond to the needs of the market it serves.  802 LMSC has been producing technical interoperability standards at the rate of about 10 per year for the past 25 years, but recently the production has stepped up to about 15 per year.  We are on target to produce 15 standards in 2014.  Amazing stuff.  Yet some people think 802 is too slow and needs to change.  I say balderdash. 

The 802 community has consistently demonstrated its ability to serve the market in a timely manner.  Yes, it typically takes about 3 years to complete a standards development project , from the germ of an idea to ratification—but when it is done, the 802 specifications ensures interoperability across all suppliers.  Furthermore, under the correct technology, market and economic conditions, the 802 specified interfaces meet a sweet-spot that allows innovative low cost, high performance implementations that result in explosive deployments of innovative products and services that were never imagined when the project was started, as demonstrated by the 802.1, 802.3 and 802.11 market successes.

Sometimes when there is a well formed proposal with substantial consensus, a project can be completed within a year.  Conversely, without a well formed proposal with multiple competing interests, it takes a longer time to build industry consensus and a project may take 5 years to complete.  Regardless of project duration there is one thing the customers for 802 standards can be sure of—they are of the highest quality, receiving intense peer review throughout the drafting and balloting process, from hundreds of individual subject matter experts participating from around the world.

Which brings me to the subject at hand—the ‘rate debate’ of what is next currently under way in the industry.  The 802.3 community has identified a clear market need for 802.3 25Gbit/s Ethernet interface speeds, which deviates from the typical progression of functionality you see in 802.3, which I’ll generalize as faster or further or both.  This community has identified a need for a lower speed interface targeted at a particular application scenario in the data centers, but given all of the projects currently underway, there are those debating what the next rate for server connections will be after 25Gb/s. 

And the 802.3 Working Group provides an excellent environment for the debate to begin…and end with a ratified standard. Yes, there will be rigorous debate as to what is the ‘correct’ rate, and I’m confident the group will quickly converge on a solution.  The 802 community has a long history of engaging in structured debate following a well-developed process that ensures fairness, open-ness and transparency such that all interested parties have an opportunity to make their case.  I encourage the debate to begin.  The sooner we get started, the sooner we’ll be finished.  Then the market will determine if we’ve met their needs.  I’m betting we will.

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The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely that of the individual(s) and should not be considered the views or positions of the Ethernet Alliance.

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Ethernet: Evolving at the Rate of Innovation

By John D'Ambrosia

Last year, while preparing to celebrate Ethernet’s 40th anniversary, I pressed Bob Metcalfe, the father of Ethernet, to define Ethernet for me.  Bob’s answer has stood out in my head ever since and is probably the best definition of Ethernet I’ve heard – “Ethernet is a brand of innovation.”  Dictionary.com defines innovation as “something new or different introduced”. In my opinion, innovation is a necessary aspect of evolution, Otherwise one becomes stagnant and dies.  I have always attributed Ethernet’s success to its ability to evolve in order to address a market need.

Given Ethernet’s presence in so many application areas, there are plenty of opportunities for evolution and innovation.  Here are just a few examples:

  • The development of 25GbE to drive the next generation of volume server deployment for those needing server performance greater than 10GbE.  This effort will heavily leverage different 25Gb/s optical and electrical technologies designed as part of the development of the 10GbE family. 
  • Given the introduction of 25GbE, there is also discussion underway that the development of 40GBASE-T should include the development of 25GBASE-T.
  • The continuing deployment of 40GbE is driving some to look at developing serial 40Gb/s signaling technologies.
  • The IEEE P802.3bs 400GbE project is considering some of the following items:

◦     Chip-to-chip (C2C) and chip-to-module (C2M) electrical interfaces have adopted developing solutions based on 25Gb/s and 50Gb/s for

◦     Optical solutions that support effective data rates of 50Gb/s or 100 Gb/s.  Different modulation formats, such as PAM-4 and DMT, are being considered.

◦     Forward Error Correction may be mandatory for all signaling solution.

  • 1000BASE-T is a dominant enterprise interconnect structure with a large installed base of CAT-5E cabling. Discussions are underway to explore a higher speed version, such as 2.5or 5Gb/s, with some even suggesting 4Gb/s, to mimic what has happened with the selection of 40GbE and 400GbE.
  • Vehicular (Automotive) Ethernet is developing 100Mb/s and 1Gb/s BASE-T signaling for use over a single twisted pair.  By the end of the decade these solutions have been forecasted to ship in the hundreds of millions of ports per year.
  • The IEEE 802.3 Next Generation EPON group is looking to develop a roadmap on the next generation of Ethernet PON technology to support operation beyond 10Gb/s.

Recalling the definition of “innovation”, the reader should note that there is no mention of going faster.  From the examples above, it can be seen that the “innovation” being seen in different Ethernet applications is either a) leveraging existing technologies or concepts or b) introducing new higher speed signaling technologies.  The IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Working Group, the Ethernet Alliance, and a multitude of other alliances clearly have their hands full with all of the efforts described above.

Nonetheless, the development community-at-large is debating the future of Ethernet’s evolution.  Some are trying to draw lessons from the past.  There has been considerable debate about whether the development of 40GbE was a mistake.  This statement partially leverages the luxury of hindsight, while at the same time ignoring the market success of 40GbE.  As the chair of the IEEE P802.3ba Task Force that developed 40GbE, I take exception with this whole train of thought.  It was the correct decision at the time it was made, and the market has deployed it quite successfully, but there clearly are lessons that need to be considered given the new industry direction to develop 25GbE. 

Furthermore, as we look to the future and see potential justification for the development of 40, 50, and 100Gb/s signaling technologies at the high end, we also see high volume applications emerging, which need to support higher operation rates, but below the 10Gb/s plus technologies the industry have developed over the past 15 years.

It is this overlap of industry and technology requirements that are driving an exciting time in the annals of Ethernet’s history.  The first 40 years of Ethernet lived with the philosophy of developing a next rate solution of “10x the performance at 3x the cost.”  That way of thinking is no more.

Such industry debates, where the future of the industry is on the line, take time.  I saw this first-hand with the introduction of 40GbE and 100GbE.  As the industry invests in the development of new signaling technologies, voices are becoming louder for a new industry roadmap for Ethernet.  Clearly, it’s a daunting task.  The Ethernet Alliance will be stepping up on October 16th 2014, as it hosts its open industry event – Technology Exploration Forum (TEF) 2014 – The Rate Debate.  It will be an exciting day of discussion and debate, where through industry consensus building, a new future for the rates of Ethernet will be defined.  Everyone needs to be involved in this discussion.

For more information on TEF 2014-The Rate Debate, please see http://ethernetalliance.org/the-rate-debate/.   

 

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The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely that of the individual(s) and should not be considered the views or positions of the Ethernet Alliance.

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