While hoopla surrounded GlobalComm last week, a major industry event took place somewhat quietly on the sidelines--10GBASE-T was ratified as an official IEEE standard. The IEEE 802.3an 10GBASE-T project reached its goal and submitted a complete and technically sound document to the IEEE standards board for ratification at last week's meeting. This is the culmination of a long consensus-driven process that has industry confidence and support for both the technology and business case for 10Gb Ethernet on 100 meters of twisted pair copper.
According to George Zimmerman, co-founder and CTO of Solarflare, "Now is the time for folks to be preparing their networks to put 10G on twisted pair copper. The cabling products to do that are available today."
"10GBASE-T promises to enable higher density switching solutions and lower-cost 10G NICs--lowering the cost of 10G to end customers. Our goal at Solarflare is to be first to market with 10GBASE-T PHYs and the first to demonstrate a 10GBASE-T NIC. We're very pleased that the standards progress is aligned with what Solarflare is doing with products," said Zimmerman.
The outcome of the standards process is that Class E (CAT 6) is capable of from 55 to 100 meters depending upon qualification; CAT 7 and the new CAT 6a are full 100-meter lengths on installed wiring. In addition, a channel model defines individual measurements on the performance of cable in such a way that 45 meters is achievable on CAT 5e.
What ratification means for customers is quite simply that the technology and the standard are at this point stable. The standard finished with a high 90% approval, which should instill a great deal of stability and confidence.
At the same time, the TIA is working on the final phases of its ballot for documents to help the industry qualify existing legacy CAT 6 cabling, as well as put finishing editorial touches on the specification for that CAT 6a cabling.
Figure 1. Overview comparing 10GBASE-T, 1000BASE-T and 100 BASE-TX. Courtesy: Solarflare Communications
Ratification was made possible by proving that the levels of cancellation required, which are way beyond 1000BASE-T, were possible by using newer algorithms and architectures. Another point of proof is that 10GBASE-T has also driven the requirements for state-of-the-art corrected analog-to-digital conversion (ADC), improving the power performance point for the high performance converters more than 10x from where they were at the project's inception.
Finally, the standard itself embodies a high-performance forward error correcting code that pushes coding beyond what was considered feasible just 10 years ago, with state-of-the-art decoder architectures--right up against the fundamental limits of performance.
Reviewing the range of cabling standards, the main difference between CAT 6a and CAT 6 include: CAT 6a will be augmented and actually measured out to 500 MHz of frequency, where CAT 6 may stop at 250 MHz as CAT 6 was not designed to test at the higher frequency. What guarantees the 100 meter performance in CAT 6a is that it is designed for improved cable-to-cable alien crosstalk. There is some industry confusion as to the CAT 7 connector. Specified with an RF-45 compatible female connector, called GG-45, it doesn't actually use an RJ-45 connector.
In the optical space, 10GBASE-SR has been around for a while. It requires new multimode fiber. Relatively low cost and low power, it demands highly skilled termination and maintenance. 10GBASE-LRM addresses legacy multimode fiber. It applies similar techniques as are used for equalization in BASE-T to the fiber problem. 10GBASE-LRM should be ratified at the next standards meeting in New Jersey on September 15, 2006.
The main strength of 10GBASE-T when you discuss Ethernet, is that what is associated most with Ethernet is that RJ-45 connector and how easy it is to plug and play. All said, that's the target of 10GBASE-T. For equipment vendors, it also targeted are cost reductions as we see a traditional Moore's Law Curve.
According to Zimmerman, Solarflare expects to be providing silicon for 10GBASE-T as well as Ethernet controllers and the first 10GBASE-T NICs for use by the major vendors of Ethernet equipment.