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Ethernet plugfest seeks to expedite tech advancement

Posted: 07 Jul 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Ethernet Alliance? plugfest? UNH-IOL? 40GbE? 100GbE?

The Ethernet Alliance and the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory (UNH-IOL) have recently hosted what they consider as the largest plugfest to date to test interoperability of 40GbE and 100GbE, define the 25GbE standard, and help businesses deploy new Ethernet technologies more quickly. Engineers from 23 companies in the networking ecosystem such as Arista, Cisco, Dell, Hitachi and Intel gathered at the UNH-IOL's 32,000-square-foot facility to work the kinks out of their 40GbE and 100GbE technologies and to provide input into the developing standard for 25GbE.

"Fast IT" has become a marketing slogan, and is also a very real challenge for today's IT professionals. But rolling out new applications on the fly, providing continuous improvement, and adapting to changes and feedback in real time can only happen if your basic IT infrastructure is extremely sound.

"Customers and vendors are telling us they need to move faster," stated John D'Ambrosia, chair of the Ethernet Alliance and chief Ethernet evangelist at Dell. "We have to keep figuring out how to move the standards development as fast as we can and leverage these technologies quickly, because there are so many new things coming."

Ethernet plugfest

Image: Ethernet Alliance

Increased demand for emerging tech

It's helpful that Ethernet specifications are similar and often build on one another. But, there is a growing demand for specifications that are tailored to specific application areas such as data centres, ISPs, storage and the automotive industry, according to Jeff Lapak, associate director at the UNH-IOL. "With each faster speed there are more and more different flavours. They're all a little different, but the strength of Ethernet is that the core of it is always the same."

That solid core will help in the deployment of emerging technologies. SDN and virtualised applications put even more connections on a typical Ethernet network, making the physical infrastructure even more valuable, said D'Ambrosia. "There's tons of innovation happening in networking right now, there's no doubt about that. But, you still need to be able to connect between points, and unless you can do that, the other stuff isn't sound."

Lapak added that the trend toward white-box switching is putting additional pressure on the Ethernet space. "There's a lot of talk about lowering cost and commoditizing the Ethernet chunk," he said. The ability to use generic white-box solutions from different vendors, make them all work together, and provide them at a low price demands a very high level of consistency in the products available.

Rigorous testing

That's what the plugfest is all about, making sure that products can plug and play in real-world scenarios. "Things are often possible in demonstrations and hero experiments. Standards are not hero experiments," D'Ambrosia said. The plugfest provides a rigorous environment for testing 40GbE and 100GbE operation over hundreds of different scenarios on both copper and fibre. The UNH-IOL expected to have completed 10,000 different tests by the end of the week, producing a wealth of data that will take at least a month to process and evaluate.

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