100 Gigabit Ethernet on the horizon

Internet2 and DOE's ESnet to work with industry on 100 Gigabit Ethernet test bed

Two of the nation's largest high-performance research and education networks ' Internet2 and the Energy Department's Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) ' announced plans today to partner with industry leaders in developing a 100 Gigabit Ethernet test bed to help move the emerging networking standard out of the laboratory and into production environments.

The partnership, announced at the SC08 supercomputing conference in Austin, Texas, also includes Infinera Corp. and Juniper Networks Inc., both of Sunnyvale, Calif., and Level 3 Communications Inc., of Broomfield, Colo.

ESnet, which piggybacks on Internet2, already has a 100 gigabits/sec backbone provided by Level 3, with Infinera networking elements and Juniper switches. But that bandwidth is achieved by aggregating multiple 10 gigabits/sec optical links.

'You can lash together 10 gigabit links for a while, but in the end, you are going to need to have 100 gigabit interfaces,' said Rob Vietzke, executive director of network services at Internet2.

Internet2 is a high-performance network operated by a consortium of 212 universities, 70 corporations and 45 affiliate members. It was established in 1996 to pick up where the old National Science Foundation Network left off.

'High-performance computing applications tend to send a single stream of information,' said Drew Perkins, Infinera's chief technology officer. Aggregated links cannot handle a single stream at more than 10 gigabits/sec, which soon will be inadequate.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.'s standard for 100 Gigabit Ethernet, expected to be finalized in mid-2010, will provide technical specifications for the faster links. The goal of the government/industry/academic partnership is to help ensure that compliant products are available to take advantage of the new standard as soon as possible.

Infinera and Level 3 demonstrated pre-standard implementations of 100 Gigabit Ethernet services two years ago, and Infinera is demonstrating more pre-standard equipment at this year's conference. But 'this is more than a technology demo,' Vietzke said of the newly announced partnership.

'One of the goals is to have production capability within a year,' said Steve Cotter, head of ESnet.

The two drivers for developing the higher-capacity networks are the super users of the high-end research and education networks and large network carriers that could benefit from the increased flexibility and efficiency of single larger connections. Customer demand is driving industry to develop the networks, and big science is the force behind the research and education community's interest.

DOE has seen traffic on ESnet, which links researchers at major DOE research labs and universities, increase tenfold every 47 months since 1990. ESnet had an average steady-state load of 1.5 gigabits/sec on its New York/Chicago/San Francisco link in July 2006. At least 10 gigabits/sec of site-to-site capacity is needed now, and DOE projected in 2006 that 100 gigabits/sec would be needed by 2010 because of advances in sciences demanding complex computer modeling, such as high-energy physics and climate change. When the European Organization for Nuclear Research's Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator goes into full operation, it will produce a quantum leap in the amount of experimental data being sent to scientists around the world.

That demand spurred the recent upgrade of the ESnet and Internet2 backbone, which today consists of a fiber-optic backbone from Level 3 with 300 Infinera network elements, 21 Ciena Corp. CoreDirector switches and nine Juniper T640 routers.

The 100 gigabits/sec speed 'today meets our needs,' Cotter said. 'Very soon, we're going to overwhelm the 100 gigabits/sec, and we're trying to stay a couple of years ahead.'

The forthcoming 100 Gigabit Ethernet standard would let users take full advantage of the available bandwidth as the separate 10 gigabit links become saturated.

The research and education community is acting as a catalyst for development of the new networking technologies, said Michaela Mezo, Juniper's director of government and education. 'We don't necessarily have 100 gigabits to the customer,' Mezo said.

In the end, 100 Gigabit Ethernet will also be of critical importance to industry.

The new partnership's members will provide a working test bed for emerging 100 Gigabit Ethernet services and products. The group's next step will be to determine where and how it will test the new technology on the existing infrastructure.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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