Don't look now, but 10-Gigabit Ethernet is next

Don't look now, but 10-Gigabit Ethernet is next

by J.B. Miles

While network administrators are busy nailing Gigabit Ethernet and Fast Ethernet into place, 10-Gigabit Ethernet is looming.

Firm standards for this super fast technology are still a few years away, but network designers are already looking at LANs, WANs and metropolitan area networks for likely applications. Eventually, a single, Ethernet-based set of standards might underlie all network architectures, from small workgroups to server clusters and network backbones.

Tips for buyers

' Gigabit Ethernet network interface cards represent the fastest-growing segment of the NIC market.

' Sales of scalable 10/100-Mbps/1-Gbps NICs will soar in coming months.

' The popularity of copper-based Gigabit NICs will continue to drive down prices for fiber Gigabit Ethernet and Fast Ethernet products.

' Gigabit Ethernet NICs are quickly pushing asynchronous transfer mode, Fiber Distributed Data Interface and token-ring NICs out of the mainstream.

' Many more Gigabit Ethernet NICs will be available by year's end.

Ten-Gigabit Ethernet uses the same Media Access Control protocol, frame format and frame size as Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet. In sum, 10-Gigabit Ethernet looks like any other Ethernet, except that it is 1,000 times faster than the old 10-Mbps links between your network servers and legacy client systems.

Networking gurus say 10-Gigabit Ethernet applications will include interconnects for server clusters, switch-to-switch links for high-speed backbone or data center switches or aggregating multiple Gigabit Ethernet LAN segments into 10-Gbps downlinks.

There aren't any 10-Gbps products available now, though some may arrive as early as the beginning of next year. But because standards for 10-Gigabit Ethernet aren't likely to be finalized until 2002, any products you find before then will be designed around vendor-specific protocols.

This won't matter much if you are willing to design an experimental network around a single vendor's product line. But if you're seeking interoperability among multiple vendors' 10-Gigabit Ethernet products, it's best to wait for the standards.

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