Ethernet Alliance Plots New Roads for Speedy Networks

While the consortium that manages the networking standard behind the internet's backbone wants to keep modern standards fast, it's aiming for new standards that balance speed with real-world applications.

The average home user needs a fast internet connection. In a cloud-focused data center, though, even that swift speed may not be fast enough for the amount of data that’s constantly moving from server rack to server rack.

Does that sound demanding? Now imagine the kind of connection a car might need in a few years.

For that reason, the Ethernet Alliance, the global consortium focused on the decades-old networking technology that turned the internet into a mainstream phenomenon, is working on new standards to keep up with the needs of the modern internet. And this isn’t your dad’s Ethernet, either: Rather than all simply working the same way given the environment, each of these new standards offers different requirements for different use cases.

“What I’m hearing is lots of diversity. Lots of diversity in need, lots of diversity for the future,” Ethernet Alliance Chairman John D’Ambrosia said at the group’s 2014 Technology Exploration Forum in Santa Clara, California, last week, according to ComputerWorld. “We’re moving away from an ‘Ethernet everywhere’ with essentially the same sort of flavor.”

To give you an idea of the kind of standards we’re talking about here:

25 gigabit and 50 gigabit technology: While current standards go as fast as 100 Gbps (gigabits per second), the way these systems work—by breaking down into four separate lanes of data, each moving data at 25 Gbps—is creating demand in some data centers for ways to slice and dice that data pipe as necessary for their needs. While a faster 40 Gbps standard exists, it works by relying on 10 Gbps data lanes, making the technology less scalable to the more modern standard. The thinking goes that creating a new 25 Gbps and 50 Gbps standard would make things more modular in data centers.

2.5 gigabit: All this talk of super-fast data makes a 2.5 Gbps pipe sound a lot less appealing than what’s already on the market, but again, it’s all about the usage. In this case, the Ethernet standard would apply to wireless internet installations in office buildings. Wireless access is getting faster, but it’s more difficult to update the wiring in buildings to the faster 10 Gbps standard, making a midrange solution more appealing.

400 gigabit: Yes this discussion of different wires for different needs isn’t stopping the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) from looking into the possibility of setting an Ethernet land-speed record. An IEEE working group is currently eyeing a 400 gigabit Ethernet standard, which it has been working on for more than a year.

Oh, and cars: With car manufacturers suddenly needing new ways to connect vehicles to their increasingly digital parts, a number of in-car Ethernet standards are being proposed. Some of this tech is even hitting the market already: On Tuesday, microchip supplier Freescale announced a new chipset and software platform to allow for 100-megabit-per-second Ethernet connections over traditional two-wire twisted pair cable, rather than the standard CAT 5 cable. As ComputerWorld‘s Lucas Mearian notes, analysts anticipate that many cars will have dozens of Ethernet ports by 2020.

With its work, the Ethernet Alliance sees its goal in this situation as one focused on market needs rather than maximum speeds.

“Targeting real applications with real solutions is the way forward,” the alliance’s D’Ambrosia said at the conference, according to EE Times. “The days of building standards with 10x jumps are over.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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