The future of Ethernet

ETHERNET EVERYWHERE BLOG: In my last blog, I took a look at the history of Ethernet. It was fun to look back at history, however it is more important to look at the future. With Ethernet becoming the ubiquitous connectivity standard for service providers, enterprises, and military applications, we are letting go of proprietary networking technologies and heading directly in to industry standard networking based on Ethernet.

For those of you new to the Ethernet game, Ethernet standards are collaboratively developed, challenged, and approved by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (http://ieee.org/). To ensure interoperability among all electrical and networking devices, this standards body reviews and ratifies and publishes the standards from anything electrical to anything networking. Within computing and networking, the has been established as a global, non-profit consortium of vendors, industry experts, universities and governments that work together to bring Ethernet standards to the marketplace.

The Ethernet Alliance (EA) is key to making Ethernet technology open and innovative and tried and tested. For all of us tech geeks out there, the Ethernet Alliance (http://ethernetalliance.org/) published a really cool poster, the latest one is the 2016 Ethernet Roadmap (http://ethernetalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Ethernet-Roadmap-2sides-Final-27April.pdf). I’ll be covering some of its content here.

So, where are we now? are running anywhere from 10 megabits per second (Mbps) to 400 gigabits per second (Gbps). For easy reference, let’s start somewhere everybody is familiar with-home Internet connections. Although rare, some rural home connection speeds can be as low as 10 Mbps. I doubt any of us reading Military Embedded Systems is grappling with this, but it could happen. Most high-speed Internet home services are currently maxing out at about 60 Mbps for copper-based services, while Fiber services are now offering “near gigabit Ethernet” speeds. Enterprise connectivity options from service providers hit speeds that we’ll discuss next.

To read more Ethernet blogs from Ronen Isaac, click here.

In the enterprise, workstations are equipped 1000BASE-T (NICS) and enterprise LANs run Gigabit Ethernet (1000 BASE-T) switches and routers to support connectivity between locally connected devices. In enterprise data centers, most server-to-server connectivity, up until the last two years, were running over fiber cables connecting the devices at speeds of as fast as 10 Gbps. However, with the enormous amounts of data and -based services, data centers adopted 40 Gbps technology faster than any other Ethernet technology in the history of networking. Now -to-data center connectivity (between two data centers or between a data center and a service provider network) is running at either 40 Gbps or 100 Gbps (a standard ratified by the EA and IEEE all way back in 2010).

Currently being tested and ratified are technologies that will bring speeds up to 400 Gbps–typically used by service providers and large scale cloud provers and 50 Gbps (expecting ratification in 2018 2019) that will supplant 40 Gbps connections in data centers because of its more efficient use of electrical “traffic lanes”. For a more technical discussion of these technologies, see our previous blog “30 Flavors of Ethernet.”

So where does Ethernet sit for military applications? While central data centers and field offices are running at the same pace of traditional enterprises, field applications are lagging a bit on the adoption curve. Fast Ethernet is still being used by devices and networks where generally data prioritization is not a concern and the overall data traffic and number of connected devices are low. Examples of less-complex network applications include dismounted soldiers or SUAS where compute and communications devices just need to be able to communicate with each other. Gigabit Ethernet, carrying traffic at speeds of as fast as 1000 Mbps/1 Gbps, is a defacto standard in mobile platforms that need to support higher volumes of traffic, delay sensitive data (video, sensors, VoIP) or multiple devices on the same platform (computer, IP phone, IP camera, sensors, etc).

As military programs are looking to the future where mobile platforms such as the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (), tanks, and mobile missile launchers will require hundreds of sensors for situational awareness, and high resolution, high frame rate cameras for intelligence, current programs are looking to implement 10 Gbps links for on-vehicle aggregation of this traffic to computers or video cameras.

Forward-looking programs are also looking at 40 Gbps links and communications hubs, such as Ethernet switches (www.militaryethernet.com) simply because of the efficiency of running data through four lanes of 10 Gbps will make data communication almost immediate and deliver zero lag time for on-vehicle communications. Having said that, it is important to note that while 40 Gbps traffic will be efficient while on the vehicle, traffic and communications speeds off of the vehicle to central command will still be limited by current connectivity rates running at about 150 Mbps. Yes, 150 Mbps. So, you can see how important it is to have all possible intelligence and compute power on the vehicle so that only mission-critical data will have to be sent back to central command.

Looking in to the future, what do we see? As of 2017, the Ethernet Alliance has already done formal functional and interoperability testing with vendors offering 400 Gbps routers and switches. Between 2018 and 2020, 50 Gbps and 200 Gbps will be tested and adopted. Thousands of 25GbE servers and eventually 50GbE servers in hyper-scale data centers, such as cloud service providers, will drive the need for 400GbE to the metropolitan area networks (MAN) and wide area networks (WANs). In the not-too-distant future, testing will begin on 200 Gbps, 8000 Gbps, and astonishingly data rate speeds of 1 Tbps and 1.6 Tbps with expected testing and ratification of the standards by the year 2020.