By John D’Ambrosia, chairman, Ethernet Alliance board of directors; chief Ethernet evangelist, CTO office, Dell Networking
Ethernet and its standards-based approach have been a fundamental pillar leveraged by the data center community from inception. CxOs and IT managers have embraced Ethernet and its strong history of seamless, multi-vendor interoperability. In today's data centers, Gigabit Ethernet for servers and 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE) for networking have been the proven workhorses – cloud-scale data centers are shifting to 10 GbE for servers, and 40 Gigabit Ethernet (40 GbE) for networking.
The introduction of 40 Gigabit Ethernet provided CxOs and IT managers with a cost-effective solution to deal with the never-ending traffic burden on their networks, while 100 GbE technology continues to evolve. The initial development of 40 GbE was intended as the next-generation solution for servers beyond 10 GbE, but its inherent architecture enabled a high-density aggregation for 10 GbE server connections. This interconnect scheme enabled the cost efficiencies fueling the phenomenal growth rates being seen in today's cloud-scale data centers. The same inherent structure also exists at 100GbE, and given the maturity in development of 25 Gb/s signaling to enable 100 GbE, industry forces are driving toward 25 GbE as the next high-volume deployment for servers. This will take today’s cloud-scale data centers to the next level of performance at the lowest cost per bit from a CAPEX and OPEX perspective.
These benefits have been recognized by the greater industry at large, and work is underway within the IEEE 802.3 25 Gb/s Ethernet Study Group, as it focuses on 25 Gb/s Ethernet for server to switch interconnects. With a plethora of standards already developed that can be leveraged, it is anticipated that the IEEE 802.3 25 Gb/s effort will proceed quickly. This is good news for CxOs or IT managers contemplating refreshes or green-field builds of data centers with expanded capabilities and scalability beyond today's networks. These individuals must deal with a quickly evolving environment and make decisions that will minimize cost and risk, while at the same time ensuring ease of implementation and scalability.
An ecosystem fueled by interoperable equipment from multiple vendors will lead to competition and help drive lower costs. Further, it will help prevent being at the mercy of any one vendor with proprietary technology and equipment, and enable more choice. The standards-based approach of the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Working Group, which is augmented by the Ethernet Alliance with its emphasis on seamless, multi-vendor interoperability, holds the greatest promise for delivering these benefits for today's cloud-scale data centers, which are evolving beyond 10 GbE based servers today, and the next-generation enterprise data center networks that will be evolving beyond 10 GbE in the future.
The adoption of 25 GbE as the next rate for servers is also inviting a re-evaluation of the future of Ethernet rates for servers. Some are looking to 40 GbE, while others are arguing 50 GbE. The reality is that both rates may continue to emerge, and it is not clear yet which will be the correct choice. The Ethernet Alliance will be gathering the industry to explore this issue at its Technology Exploration Forum on October 16, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. Further details may be found at http://www.ethernetalliance.org/the-rate-debate/
John D’Ambrosia is a founder of the Ethernet Alliance and currently serves as the chairman of the Board of Directors. He is the Chief Ethernet Evangelist in the CTO Office of Dell, where he has been an industry leader in the development of Ethernet-related technologies since 1999. John is currently the chair of the IEEE 802.3 400 Gigabit Ethernet Study Group, and a member of the IEEE 802 Executive Committee.