Ethernet: The Future is Now

By John D'Ambrosia


The celebration of Ethernet’s 40th Anniversary has spanned multiple events this year.  The Ethernet Alliance will be hosting its celebration Tuesday, October 15 in conjunction with its fifth Technology Exploration Forum (TEF), appropriatelyJohn D'Ambrosia named, “The Future of Ethernet.” 

As Chairman of the Ethernet Alliance, I have been fairly involved in the planning of the event, and I have to say that it has been personally fulfilling.  I look forward to attending presentations and engaging with the father of Ethernet, Bob Metcalfe.  No doubt it will be an enlightening experience.  The conversations I have had while planning TEF 2013 have found their way into my thinking as I have pulled together presentations for my other activities. 

First, to me Metcalfe’s Law is pure genius: The value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system.    We should all pause for a minute and think about this.  As more people, and devices, connect to a network, any network, the functional, economical, and social value of that network grows. 

And it is not just “networking” we need to consider.    We also need to think about the processing and storage capabilities that are being enabled by the modern day network.  All of this ultimately working in synergy to enable this engine known as “The Net.”  The more that people and devices connect to this engine the more powerful it becomes.  So it isn’t just about the networking, the processing, the storage, the applications, etc – it is about everything working together.

This raises an interesting question though.  What is Ethernet?  This may sound like a funny question for the Chairman of the Ethernet Alliance to be asking, but think about it – how many things out there claim to be Ethernet?  I have never been a fan of turf wars, as I believe that the general forward direction of all things Ethernet is in the best interest of Ethernet.  But this whole phenomenon made me wonder what Bob, as the Father of Ethernet, thought about all these claims of things being Ethernet.  His reply “Ethernet is a brand – a brand of innovation!”

A brand of innovation.  That is actually how I started engaging with Mr. Metcalfe, as we exchanged several tweets about the 400 Gb/s Ethernet Study Group I am chairing in the IEEE.  Why not Terabit he asked?  My reply was to ask for his help to help get the industry working on the underlying technologies that would enable Terabit Ethernet.

But, my oh my, TEF 2013 has grown beyond this discussion.  Yes, there will be discussion regarding feeds-n-speeds.  It is an Ethernet discussion after all.  But there are so many other topics happening.  For example, the synergy between wired and wireless technologies.  Despite what some think, WiFi is not killing Ethernet, just the opposite. It is connecting more people to the network, and making it more powerful.  There will also be panels on Vehicular Ethernet, Photonic Integration, and SDN.  As well as Bob leading a brainstorming session on getting the various Ethernet related organizations working together for the future.  

And I shouldn’t forget our featured speakers – Nan Chen, President of the MEF, Tom Burns, Vice President and General Manager, Dell Networking, and Wael Diab, Senior Member of the IEEE and Vice-Chair of the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Working Group and Senior Technical Director, Broadcom.  Each of these individuals are sure to have some very insightful commentary  given their backgrounds in relation to Ethernet.

TEF 2013, The Future of Ethernet, will be a special event as we look to the future.  There is so much excitement within the Ethernet Alliance as we prepare for TEF 2013.  I can only imagine how engaging the actual event itself will be.  If you want to find out more about TEF 2013, please see http://ethernetalliance.org/events/technology-exploration-forums/.  Registration is open at: http://conta.cc/16XPDT3

I look forward to seeing everyone there as the industry starts plotting Ethernet’s course for the next 40 years.