Foundry chief is fired up over Ethernet's future

Bobby Johnson, CEO and founder of Foundry Networks Inc., used his keynote address at the Networld+Interop show in Atlanta this week to share his vision of the future of his favorite network technology, from Gigabit Ethernet, to 10 Gigabit Ethernet and beyond.

Being the CEO of an Ethernet switch company, you would expect Johnson, to be enthusiastic about the Ethernet's future. And he was not short on optimism about the 30-plus-year-old technology.

"I believe the global evolution of Ethernet will dramatically increase network speeds while decreasing the cost of running IT business networks over the next five years," Johnson said.

Johnson says that with the recent ratification of the 10-Gigabit Ethernet standard in June, the industry is on the cusp of another large upgrade cycle in terms of LAN infrastructure.

"Gigabit over copper is going to have an effect on the adoption of 10 Gigabit Ethernet [in enterprises] As Intel approaches 3GHz processors for PCs, you should be looking at driving 1000BaseT down to the desktop."

He expects that in two to five years, Gigabit Ethernet will be predominant on the desktop, with 10 Gigabit emerging in the LAN core. What's holding back widespread adoption of 10G Ethernet right now is pricing, he said.

"There's no magic to 10 Gigabit Ethernet," as a technology, he says. "The real magic will be getting the cost out of 10 Gigabit Ethernet, but that will happen." Johnson estimates that while per port pricing of 10G Ethernet now is between US$25,000 to $75,000 per connection, he thinks that will drop to around $5,000 per port by 2006.

For now, those that can use the speed will pay for it, especially service providers looking for high-speed SONET alternatives.

"For a Gigabit Ethernet user, 10 Gigabit Ethernet right now might be a bit out of reach, but for an OC-192 user, it's much cheaper -- one-fifth the cost," Johnson said. "And because of that, we'll see 10 Gigabit Ethernet drive OC-192 and OC-48 out of the WAN."

Other applications where Ethernet has a bright future, according to Johnson, include the provisioning of storage area networks, and for providing the backbone of converged voice, video and data networks.

Johnson also ventured to look beyond 10-Gigabit Ethernet to even faster network technologies he says could be just around the corner.

"While Ethernet speeds have always grown in powers of ten, that may change," Johnson said. With the next logical step for Ethernet being 100G bit/sec, Johnson thinks the industry may lean towards 40 Gigabit Ethernet. With 40G bit/sec pipes existing today in the form of OC-768, there is existing technology to build off of, whereas there is no standard for doing 100M bit/sec.

In the past, Johnson said, the development of high speed Ethernet involved "piggybacking" on top of technology from existing high-speed connectivity technologies: Gigabit Ethernet borrowed from Fibre Channel and 10 Gigabit Ethernet borrowed from OC-192.

"40 Gigabits is certainly a lot of bandwidth," he added.

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