Standard gets closer to finalisation

The 10 Gigabit Ethernet standard makes the final step towards completion, as the IEEE 802.3ae Task Force approved the draft for the pre-approval stage.

The 10G Ethernet standard draft, which the IEEE began work on two years ago, was moved to the "Sponsor Ballot" stage at a meeting of the Task Force two weeks ago. This stage marks the end of all technical-related work and is the last review before the standard ratification, expected in March 2002.

The vote to push the 10 Gigabit standard to the final ballot was expected last July. However the IEEE voted against the move because 10G Ethernet component vendors at the time had not produced enough prototype optical transceivers and boards that adhered closely enough to the standard to undergo "feasibility testing."

Some IEEE members speculated that this bump in the process would delay ratification of 802.3ae by up to three months to June. IEEE members say now that they expect the standard will still be on track for March ratification, despite July's procedural hiccup.

One of the major hurdles in the technology's development was the fact that, unlike previous Ethernet technologies which borrowed and adapted other component technologies like Fiber Channel and FDDI, much of the design of 10G Ethernet parts had to be done from scratch.

The promise of 10G Ethernet comes in its price/performance advantage over SONET technology, used mostly by carriers and large enterprises. With OC-192 (9.9G bits/sec) SONET ports costing between US$250,000 to $300,000 per port, 10G Ethernet is expected to be a fraction of that, while being as simple to manage and maintain as plain old Ethernet, industry watchers say.

Analysts say that 10 Gigabit Ethernet will be of immediate use to carriers looking to provide low-cost, high-speed Ethernet services to businesses with metro area network (MAN) services. Over the next several years, enterprises are expected to adopt 10 Gigabit Ethernet as a switch-to-switch interconnect technology. Enterprises could also use it for long-distance backbone connections in large campuses or for building out their own MANs where dark fiber is available for private purchase.

According to International Data Corp., the number of 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports shipped will jump from around 16,000 ports - based on the pre-ratified standard - this year, to around 387,000 ports in 2005. Over the same time period, the firm expects 10 Gigabit prices to drop from $39,000 per port to around $7,800 per port. This predicted price fall will could be key in gauging how quickly 10 Gigabit is adopted by enterprises, as all but the largest organizations would pay $30,000-plus for a single switch port.

Several 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch products have already been announced by Avaya Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., Enterasys Networks Inc., Foundry Networks Inc. and Riverstone Networks Inc. Cisco, Foundry and Riverstone are targeting their products mostly at service providers, while Avaya and Enterasys are looking to sell their 10 Gigabit gear into large enterprises.

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