10G Ethernet coming to a network near you

The time for enterprises to start planning for 10G-bit/sec Ethernet is now, according to one of the world's leading Ethernet and telecommunications companies.

The technology won't initially be used to build high-speed campus and building backbones, though, but as a service offering from carriers for metropolitan-area networks (MAN) or as a fat pipe to access the Internet, Nortel Networks says.

Even though a draft specification of the 10G-bit/sec Ethernet standard is not expected until September 2000, Nortel is making a "strategic investment" in the technology now, according to Rod Wilson, director of the company's 10G Ethernet Project, and Carlos Zaidi, Nortel's Emerging Technologies strategist.

Nortel says the time is right because users and service providers need a familiar, low-cost, high-speed technology to support networked applications, such as virtual private networks, IP telephony, transparent LAN services and e-commerce.

Ethernet running at 10G bit/sec offers that. It reduces costs because it's one technology that can be used from the LAN to the MAN to the WAN. There's no need for ancillary equipment, such as protocol translators, so equipment and operational costs are reduced.

Indeed, Ethernet gear costs one-fifth the price of its SONET counterparts for the WAN - OC-192 ATM and packet-over-SONET. This could translate into less-expensive services and easier network management for enterprises, because the network is based on a single core technology.

SONET is an optical networking technology that is complex, costly and optimised for voice. But with the multibillion-dollar installed base of SONET gear in the public network, the technology probably won't be disappearing anytime soon.

Ten-gigabit Ethernet packets, therefore, would include a thin SONET wrapper that would strip out most of the costly and complicated attributes, but maintain some of the unique WAN management capabilities for data transport, Nortel officials say.

Nortel plans to add 10G Ethernet interfaces to its Versalar 25000 router in late 2000, company officials say. Nortel also plans to develop a 10G Ethernet server interface for server clusters. The company already supports 10G-bit/sec interfaces on its Optera optical transport system.

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