The Ethernet Alliance at OFC 2023 – Roadmap and Recap
By David J. Rodgers
Another Optical Fiber Conference (OFC) is in the books. Once again, I find myself amazed at the assemblage of products our member companies were able to configure to “just work” in the Ethernet Alliance interoperability demonstration, which showcased 18 member companies.
It’s a Gordian knot that grows with each new bump in Ethernet speeds and with the addition of 800GbE signaling this year, the task was more daunting. It’s a mirror image of the inherent difficulties present in the real world, but something Ethernet continues to overcome as it reaches its 50th anniversary this year.
As our tech leads, Jean-Marie Vilain of EXFO, Bob Wagner of Panduit, and David Estes of Spirent noted, “The Ethernet Alliance interoperability demonstration at OFC ’23 is especially challenging due to the range of speeds and interconnections and media in use, a microcosm of the challenges the industry faces, although very representative of new technology deployments.”
The introduction of 800GbE products significantly pushed the interoperability envelope, as it does within end users’ data centers. The big question for many new products is, can they coexist with the existing legacy products already in use in support of the enterprise? Considering the explosion of applications and heightened requirements placed on today’s enterprise networks, this is no easy task.
Ethernet Alliance’s 2023 Ethernet Roadmap
Unveiled at OFC, the Ethernet Alliance’s Ethernet Roadmap – newly revised for 2023 – tracks the advancement and deployment of new, higher-speed products, whose success is predicated on the ability to meet customers’ current and future needs. Cutting-edge Ethernet products are swiftly finding homes in many market segments, resulting in lower costs and ensuring the needs of technology users are being met.
One of the themes represented in the 2023 Ethernet Alliance roadmap is “Interoperability and Certification”, a nod to both the efforts of the Power over Ethernet (PoE) community and the Ethernet Alliance PoE certification program. It’s no surprise this is a key theme, as PoE technology can be found in many of the market segments the Ethernet Alliance tracks – the enterprise, industrial and building automation, and home device connectivity.
What’s driving 800GbE?
So, what’s driving 800GbE and ever-increasing Ethernet speeds? It’s cloud providers, hyperscale data centers, and service providers (in support of 5G deployments). The aggregation and dissemination of the terabytes of data consumers demand necessitates higher densities and faster connections between the data center and the end user. Backhaul of 5G cell systems requires the deeper bandwidth combined with nanosecond timing precision to enable seamless voice and data services.
Once envisioned as science fiction fantasy, connected and autonomous automobiles are well on their way to becoming a reality. Replacing previous generations of disparate in-car communications systems with streamlined twisted pair Ethernet signaling, thus creating a common architecture for telematic and infotainment systems, is key to the success of the connected car.
The continued evolution of Ethernet
Ethernet shows no signs of slowing down and the ecosystem continues to evolve rapidly, as evidenced by the 224Gb/s technologies seen during OFC. The deluge of optical connection solutions supporting higher data rates and extended reach requirements has united telcos and the hyperscale community, transforming the way we connect to the products and services we use on a daily basis. Behind the scenes, equipment manufacturers and test solution providers are laboring to make sure these next generation technologies can work not only on their own but more importantly, interoperate with legacy equipment and services.
As the Ethernet ecosystem, market, and end user demands continue to shift, so will the Ethernet Alliance’s Ethernet Roadmap. Expect regular digital updates on our website, with the latest print editions available each year at OFC. The roadmap is freely available to all for review and use, with acknowledgment, at: https://bit.ly/EA2023EthernetRoadmap
As for the amazing technical interoperability demonstrations – and the one thing I hold as the most important Ethernet Alliance mission – I foresee our participating members deepening their ongoing commitment to ensuring that Ethernet “just works”.