Intel and Partners to Advance Gigabit Ethernet This Year

Through a series of OEM agreements with some of its biggest partners, Intel Corp. is working to drive the adoption of Gigabit Ethernet through this year and 2000.

"Momentum is building behind Gigabit solutions in the networking community," says Greg Lang, business unit manager for Intel’s network infrastructure organization.

Last June, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE, www.ieee.org) standards board approved the 802.3z Gigabit Ethernet Standard. The standard specified operation, testing and usage requirements for Gigabit Ethernet over fiber. The following month the balloting process began for a 1000BASE-T standard, 802.3ab, which will enable Gigabit Ethernet to cover distances up to 100 meters over Unshielded Twisted Pair Category 5 copper wiring. The 802.3ab standard could be ratified by this March.

Adding to the momentum, Intel Corp. recently announced that Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp., Fujitsu Computer Products of America (www.fujitsu.com), IBM Corp., Siemens Corp. (www.siemens.com), Toshiba Corp. (www.toshiba.com) and Unisys Corp. (www.unisys.com) are shipping or will ship Intel Gigabit Ethernet technology as part of their servers. Compaq, for instance, offers a solution that guarantees end-to-end application performance with wire-speed 10/100 and Gigabit Ethernet switching performance that extends from the desktop through the data center.

"Operationally, the Gigabit Ethernet marketplace is still immature," says Mark Fabbi, research director at GartnerGroup (www.gartnergroup.com).

In the coming years, however, expect product performance to increase, price per port to decrease, and challenges in upgrading existing equipment to be minimized.

While Gigabit Ethernet is an ideal candidate for deployment as a backbone interconnect between switches and as a connection to high-performance servers, it also has the potential to be an upgrade path for high-end desktop computers of the future that may require more bandwidth than can be provided by 100BaseT.

Since Gigabit Ethernet is fully compatible with the huge installed base of Ethernet and Fast Ethernet nodes, it provides homogeneous technology throughout the LAN. Desktops can be connected through shared-10 or shared-100 Mbps Ethernet, or switched-10 or switched-100 Mbps Ethernet. Additionally, servers can be connected through shared-100 or switched-100 Mbps Ethernet, and shared-1,000 or switched-1,000 Mbps Ethernet.

Currently, Gigabit Ethernet is deployed in the backbone with switch-to-switch connections. This involves upgrading links between switches or repeaters to 1,000 Mbps links between Gigabit Ethernet switches. The technology, however, will move down to the desktop level as more compute-intensive applications begin to appear.

The approval of the 802.3z standard affirms the interoperability and stability of Gigabit Ethernet technology. Demonstrations from Gigabit Ethernet Alliance-sponsored vendors and independent vendors have given enterprise managers more confidence in deploying Gigabit Ethernet products in their networks.

"This will be a transition year for Gigabit Ethernet. [The technology] will take off in the year 2000 when the next generation products becomes available. They will be more scalable, reliable and robust," Fabbi says.