Ethernet Expansion

The ratification of 10 Gigabit Ethernet standards paves the way for Ethernet to move beyond the local area network, into the wide area network. However, price constraints and a lack of service provider support could hinder uptake.

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By  Zoe Moleshead Published  July 30, 2002

Standards ratification|~||~||~|Bandwidth hungry applications and burgeoning network traffic are pushing the transmission speeds and capabilities of Gigabit Ethernet. With the ratification of the 10 Gigabit Ethernet 802.3ae standard last month, vendors are gearing up for an increasing number of metropolitan area networks (MAN) and touting the cost, ease-of-use and integration advantages that 10 Gigabit Ethernet will ultimately offer.

The completion of 10 Gigabit Ethernet standards by the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is, according to vendors, a natural evolution of networking speeds. The past few years have seen enterprises move from running 10 M/bits/s on the backbone to Fast Ethernet speeds of 100 M/bits/s. Increasingly, organisations are upgrading to Gigabit Ethernet for their core network infrastructure.

“We started with Ethernet at 10 M/bit and then to aggregate 10 M/bit Ethernet you need to have 100 M/bit. Now there is 100 M/bit to the desktop and to aggregate 100 M/bit Ethernet you need Gigabit Ethernet technology,” confirms Emad Makiya, general manager, Middle East & North Africa, Extreme Networks.

With the network playing a far larger role in delivering voice, video and data services to enterprises, the leaps in aggregation and transmission speeds are understandable.
According to Farook Majeed, regional director, Foundry Networks, the increasing demand for bandwidth and higher networking speeds is driving 10 Gigabit Ethernet momentum.

“We are seeing a growing demand for new bandwidth-intensive services, such as video-on-demand and high-quality video streaming. These applications will require the bandwidth that 10 Gigabit Ethernet delivers. We also have customers that want to upgrade their backbone to take advantage of 10 Gigabit technology for ever-increasing network traffic and bandwidth intensive applications,” he explains.

Vendors believe the ratification of the 10 Gigabit Ethernet standard will offer encouragement to potential customers, guaranteeing that interoperability between vendor solutions is attainable.

“Products based on 10 Gigabit Ethernet technology have been on the market for almost a year. [However,] the official go-ahead gives companies and carriers assurance that products based on the standard can easily interoperate,” confirms Majeed.

With the standards in place, component manufacturers and networking vendors can continue their development of 10 Gigabit Ethernet products and begin to push them into the market.

“[Standards ratification] is a prime mover for the major manufacturers in terms of development programmes and it will give the service providers and carriers confidence in the technology. Ratification of technical standards is always essential because it means compatibility and interoperability,” says Andy Duncan, general manager, enterprise solutions, Middle East & North Africa and service provider solutions, Saudi Arabia & Gulf, Nortel Networks.

||**||Ethernet everywhere|~||~||~|The introduction of 10 Gigabit Ethernet also extends Ethernet beyond the local area network (LAN) environment. 10 Gigabit Ethernet can now be deployed throughout the entire network infrastructure from the wide area network (WAN) to a metropolitan area network (MAN) and the LAN. This provides network transparency and reduced complexity in both design and management.

“All the network traffic that is running over Ethernet will be transparent… from 10 Gigabit to Gigabit down to 10 M/bit. It will all share the same type of packet format. There will be no translations and IP will run natively on 10 Gigabit Ethernet like it would on any other technology,” explains Sam Alkharrat, technical director, Cisco Systems, Middle East.

With all network traffic based on the same packet and no translation costs, latency and network delays are also minimised.

The benefits of running a complete Ethernet infrastructure also extend to operating costs and reduce the need for additional skills, as network administrators are already versed in Ethernet.

“From a network operations perspective, 10 Gigabit Ethernet will provide simplified connection management and reduce network operating complexity thereby providing lower operating, lower training and support costs,” confirms Nortel’s Duncan.

From a wider perspective, 10 Gigabit Ethernet technology will also move into the service provider space and provide an alternative to SONET/SDH-based networks, which currently offer speeds of 10 Gigabit or OC-192, as it is also known. 10 Gigabit Ethernet can also integrate with DWDM (dense wavelength division multiplexing) optical networks.

“To implement a DWDM network or SONET/SDH is the same. It is very complex and very expensive and it requires a lot of maintenance. Ethernet offers the simplicity of IP, so there won’t be a need for converters from IP to SDH or IP to ATM. Everything will be one IP network based on the Ethernet standard,” explains Stanislas de Boisset, network consultant, 3Com Middle East.

10 Gigabit Ethernet will also prove a cheaper and more predictable alternative to SONET or ATM. Alkharrat says ATM or SONET interfaces are “ten times more expensive,” than 10 Gigabit Ethernet ones.

“Buying an ATM interface at OC-192 speeds or 10 Gigabit speeds versus buying an Ethernet interface at 10 Gigabit speeds varies dramatically in price. So there are economics, scalability, reliability and service advantages. These factors will drive the deployment of 10 Gigabit Ethernet,” he continues.

Although, in comparison to technologies, such as SONET/SDH, 10 Gigabit Ethernet seems price competitive, at an enterprises level, cost is still a big obstacle to deployment.

“10 Gigabit Ethernet is expensive. We are talking about roughly US$15-20,000 per port for a LAN. With a WAN or MAN it will be something like $60,000 per port for 10 Gigabit Ethernet,” says de Boisset.

The heavy costs can be attributed to the shortage and cost of components for 10 Gigabit Ethernet technology. As with most technologies, the cost of components is predicted to fall as demand increases.

However, according to Chris Kozup, Meta group’s senior research analyst, global networking strategies, 10 Gigabit Ethernet still loses out in price comparisons with Gigabit Ethernet.

“Pricing [for 10 Gigabit Ethernet] is actually more than you would pay for 10 single Gigabit Ethernet ports. Any enterprise that has the requirements to scale bandwidth in its core could simply go out and buy 10 [separate] Gigabit Ethernet ports for a cheaper price than a single 10 Gigabit Ethernet port,” he explains.

||**||Functionality questions|~||~||~|Kozup also believes that questions about the functionality and the true speed of 10 Gigabit Ethernet solutions have yet to be answered. Although, vendors have been keen to demonstrate the interoperability of their solutions, they have avoided other forms of testing.

“The vendors seem much more comfortable doing interoperability testing with one another rather than going for full line rate Gigabit Ethernet testing, which may suggest there are still some immaturities within the products,” says Kozup.

One sign of this immaturity is the lack of services that 10 Gigabit Ethernet currently offers. The technology does not offer features such as multi-protocol label switching (MPLS). Kozup comments: “10 Gigabit Ethernet is a pure bandwidth solution. Users can get the scalability of the bandwidth, but they don’t necessarily have the full support for additional services and features.”

Locally, vendors have suggested the monopolistic nature of the region’s service providers may also hinder the deployment of 10 Gigabit Ethernet in the WAN. The absence of competition in the market means that there is no great impetus for the Middle East’s service providers to up the ante in the customer services or technology stakes.

“The service providers are not ready yet. They do not have the infrastructure in place. [Although] a number of the service providers in the Middle East are investing in deploying 10 Gigabit optical transmission equipment in their backbone networks, until that kit is in the network and they are able to provide 10 Gigabit services, 10 Gigabit over the WAN is not going to happen,” says Duncan.

Opinions also remain divided on just how quickly 10 Gigabit Ethernet will gain momentum in the enterprise space. Vendors are obviously keen to push 10 Gigabit Ethernet solutions, however, analysts remain sceptical about the maturity and enterprise requirements for such large bandwidth, as very few enterprises, particularly within the Middle East are actually running large multimedia applications.

“Users today don’t have that kind of bandwidth requirement to justify the cost of buying 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports,” says Meta Group’s Kozup.

“We still have a large number of customers that are operating at 10 M/bits/s shared or 10 M/bits/s switches. If we had a case where companies were pushing the envelope and having Gigabit Ethernet to the desktop that would certainly start to warrant the use of 10 Gigabit Ethernet at the core,” he adds.

||**||Local uptake|~||~||~|Locally, the market for 10 Gigabit Ethernet is also a question for debate. If service providers are slow to deploy the necessary technology for 10 Gigabit Ethernet to run in WAN environments, then only large enterprises with their own network infrastructures will be in a position to leverage the advantages of 10 Gigabit Ethernet.

Although, vendors such as Cisco and Extreme put forward the likes of SABIC, Saudi Aramco and Dubai Ports & Customs Authority as potential customers for 10 Gigabit Ethernet, much of the Middle East market is still assessing the merits of upgrading to Gigabit Ethernet.

“One of the first customers that has asked us for 10 Gigabit Ethernet is Dubai Port & Customs Authority. They have connectivity between two campuses — Port Rashid and Port Jebel Ali — and very soon they will be testing 10 Gigabit Ethernet,” says Extreme’s Makiya.

However, Dubai Port & Customs Authority’s testing of 10 Gigabit Ethernet is still governed by the availability of the technology from Etisalat. Makiya adds: “Currently, they are running on Gigabit Ethernet because that is what they are getting in terms of fibre from Etisalat right now.”

Cisco’s Alkharrat, however, remains positive and predicts: “There are some innovative companies, like SABIC that will jump on the bandwagon and even deploy the technology before it is standardised. Some of our largest enterprise customers [and service providers] will immediately see the economics and value of deploying 10 Gigabit Ethernet.”

For many of the region’s enterprises upgrading to Gigabit Ethernet on the backbone is a more realistic objective than installing 10 Gigabit Ethernet. The rollout of Gigabit Ethernet to the desktop also seems to be some way off.

However, Alkharrat argues that Gigabit Ethernet to the desktop is not necessarily a prerequisite for the deployment of 10 Gigabit Ethernet.

“The standard these days seems to be to deploy Fast Ethernet to the desktop… We are going to see high concentrations of Fast Ethernet that would justify more than a Gigabit on the backbone and could justify 10 Gigabit on the backbone,” he comments.

Foundry’s Farook believes 10 Gigabit Ethernet will gain initial momentum in LAN environments, capitalising on the increasing number of Ethernet networks installed within regional enterprises.

“In local area networks where Ethernet is [becoming] dominant, the most immediate application for 10 Gigabit Ethernet is the LAN backbone. With 100 M/bits/sec Ethernet to each desktop and Gigabit Ethernet connecting the wiring closet switches to the backbone switches, 10 Gigabit Ethernet provides a scalable connection between LAN backbone switches,” he explains.

Like all technologies, 10 Gigabit Ethernet will ultimately mature and reduced components costs coupled with increased demand, will drive the price per port down. However, analysts believe it will take at least two years before 10 Gigabit Ethernet gains critical mass. As such, users are more likely to adopt a migratory approach to scaling their Ethernet networks.

Although, vendors such as Extreme and Foundry were offering users 10 Gigabit Ethernet solutions prior to standard ratification, others have chosen to offer migration paths to 8 Gigabit or provide interfaces that will allows users to link to 10 Gigabit Ethernet backbones.

“I don’t believe customers will rip out their Gigabit Ethernet networks and put 10 Gigabit Ethernet in. However, because Cisco provides 10 Gigabit interfaces on our existing product line, customers do not have to go through a forklift upgrade or buy new equipment or boxes,” says Alkharrat.

And while the ink may just be drying on the 10 Gigabit Ethernet standards, moves are already being made to pave the way for future standards, with 40 Gigabit Ethernet expected to be the next leap for the technology.

“There has already been talk about 40 Gigabit Ethernet, and that is the next step,” says Meta’s Kozup. “Never underestimate the trends in terms of scalability, as we have seen, scalability just continues to grow and grow.”||**||

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