Industry murmurs

FRAMINGHAM (09/24/2003) - 40G Ethernet, or beyond

So 10G Ethernet, standardized 15 months ago, is seeing but a whisper of deployment in enterprise networks, and even less than that in carrier networks. But that's not stopping industry watchers from speculating on what speed to take the venerable LAN standard to next.

In May, for example, a senior Cisco Systems Inc. executive voiced his opinion that 40G bit/sec Ethernet could be technically feasible within two years. Doing 40G Ethernet, based on SONET technology, would be easier than doing the linear mathematical leap to 100G, said Luca Cafiero, general manager for switching, voice and storage at Cisco.

And in a recent interview, Raleigh Mann, manager of network operations at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), said 40G is within reason for this San Rafael, California, movie post-production house. Coincident with a headquarters move planned for 2005, ILM is designing a network that would deliver 1G bit/sec connections to about 3,800 user machines, using multiple 10G links between each switching closet and a "very large mesh of 10G at the core for redundancy and performance." Mann anticipates close to 200 10G interconnects on the network, and says he envisions 40G within the core and to some higher-density closets.

Despite the murmurs, no one has yet initiated a "call for interest" (a formal Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) process to ensure an idea is timely and interesting enough to pursue) on 40G, 100G or any other speed higher than 10G, says Bob Grow, chair of the IEEE 802.3 Working Group and a principal architect at Intel Corp. "Another bump in speed has not been discussed, period," he says. "If anyone alludes to something, it's just that there is a future and that we'll eventually get around to it."

Rather, Grow says, recent calls for interest and projects have been focused on getting 10G better tuned to the enterprise market. That includes work on 10G over copper, over fiber distributed data interface and, more complicated, Ethernet in the first mile (EFM), he adds.

Boosting Ethernet beyond 10G would be a big undertaking, one for which IEEE resources might not yet be available, Grow says. "We can only do so many projects and do them well. It makes sense to get (EFM) finished before undertaking another major project." With that, Grow doesn't anticipate the speed buzz getting any louder within the 802.3 working group until at least next year.

Route management

Seeing is believing. So say two network start-ups of a concept they call "route management" that is working users and industry watchers into a tizzy.

Route management, sometimes called route analytics, is not to be confused with the previously buzzy "route optimizers" or "router management" products. Route managers do not log into or manage routers, nor do they otherwise manipulate the routing function. Rather, these appliances, available from Packet Design and Ipsum Networks, silently "listen" to exchanges between routing protocols and then deliver a Layer 3 map of the routing paths. The map changes as the routes do - meaning, continuously.

Such easily attainable real-time visibility has never before been possible, says Adam Joffe, chief technology officer at Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) in San Diego. SOE has been beta-testing one of the two route managers available - Packet Design's Route Explorer - for several months. Joffe calls the tool "very powerful," not just because of that real-time visibility but also because it shows the effect of a route change. "You can cross a link and see where the bits would go. So you can see the resiliency and redundancy," he says. "Network engineers can take that info and make changes."

Route Explorer 1.5 supports the Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) and Intermediate System-to-System (IS-IS) routing protocols. Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) and Cisco Enhanced Interior Gateway Routing Protocol (EIGRP) support is expected in the fourth quarter.

One Route Explorer appliance can support any size network, listening to any number of domains. The appliance costs US$35,000 for up to 50 routers, with stair-step pricing up to 250 or more routers. The unlimited license version costs $75,000.

The other offering, Ipsum's Route Dynamics, supports OSPF, with BGP support coming later this year and IS-IS and EIGRP planned for next year. Route Dynamics lists at $50,000, which includes a Multi-Area Path Server, an IP Listener appliance and software. Like the Packet Design product, Route Dynamics can handle any size network; in this case, by adding IP Listeners, which cost about $5,000 for an additional 100 routers.

Network analysts herald these new products as fantastic planning tools. The real-time visual maps will make it much easier for users to configure, troubleshoot and manage IP networks, they say.

And that, Joffe adds, speaks directly to cost of managing complex router networks. "From my chair, it looks like a great purchase," he says.

XML switching appliances

Where there's a Web service, there ought to be an XML switch. Such is the growing buzz on how to deal with XML traffic. These so-called XML switches work at or near wire speeds to process XML messages, a task that can affect server processing power severely when done in server software. Sitting in front of Web or application servers, these dedicated devices handle tasks such as validating and logging XML traffic, translating XML dialects, prioritizing and routing XML traffic, and encrypting/decrypting data within an XML document.

One of the earliest market entrants, the XPE Switch from start-up Sarvega, secures, routes and prioritizes XML traffic. The switch understands XML tags and can prioritize certain transactions, such as a customer sales order. Meanwhile, other start-ups are zeroing in on more specific pieces of the XML processing problem. Appliances from Forum Systems, Reactivity and Westbridge Technology focus on security functions such as authentication, decryption and encryption.

Analysts, venture capitalists and early users have been bullish on these XML switches, perhaps because XML traffic is expected to grow significantly in the next few years. By 2006, ZapThink says, XML will account for 25 percent of network traffic, up from 2 percent today.

XML switching appliances remain the purview of these and other start-ups, including Conformative Systems, DataPower Technology Inc. and Xbridge Software Inc. However, industry watchers suspect established network vendors soon will want to incorporate such functionality into their product lines. Cisco and Nortel Networks Ltd. come to mind as vendors closely listening to this buzz.

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