Gigabit Ethernet: Hope vs. Hype

Can the Gig-Ethernet market, supporting storage services, really hit $44B by 2005? UPDATED 11/2 1:00pm

November 2, 2001

2 Min Read
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Use of gigabit Ethernet in service provider networks will grow eightfold by 2005 -- with nearly 30 percent of revenues coming from 10-Gbit/s links. But Ethernet must become "carrier ready" to reach its full potential.

So says a recent report from Pioneer Consulting. The firm says use of 1- and 10-Gbit/s Ethernet in access, metropolitan, and wide-area core networks will drive sales to carriers seeking lower-cost technologies to expand their facilities and offer new data-intensive services -- including those that enable enterprises to build storage networks across multiple sites.

Figure 1: Source: Pioneer Consulting LLC

Industry sources bristle at Pioneer's projections, which estimate a gigabit Ethernet market of $44 billion by 2005. Even the most enthusiastic vendors in this market consider that figure excessive.

"The potential for metro optical Ethernet is large, but... I don't know what methodology they may have used," says Nan Chen, director of product marketing at Atrica Inc. and president of the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF), an industry group.Chen says it's not unrealistic to assume that the market for gigabit Ethernet in metro networks would double annually, reaching about $5 billion by 2005. But he says that estimate is contingent on vendors proving that Ethernet can perform reliably in carrier networks.

Pioneer Consulting's report concedes that carrier-class reliability and quality of service are still missing from the packet-driven, "best effort" world of Ethernet. And these features must be proven to service providers before the market can reach its full potential, the firm says.

Industry forces are trying to make this happen. At a meeting of the MEF last week, for instance, over 90 attendees from about 50 different companies reportedly agreed on a common method of matching Sonet's link recovery using MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) in Ethernet WANs.

"This was a breakthrough," says Chen. "We've developed a 50-millisecond protection model, when most people think Ethernet recovery takes 30 seconds."

Chen says the establishment of a protection scheme will be key to providing the value proposition carriers will require in order for the metro Ethernet market to take off as hoped.Details of the spec need to be hammered out. Forum spokespeople say that a first draft spec is aimed for completion by February, with a final version due out in summer 2002.

The group also has started to define a QOS framework for Ethernet, within a set of predefined Ethernet services.

The Metro Ethernet Forum is one of two groups at the forefront of efforts at making gigabit Ethernet carrier ready. The other group, the Resilient Packet Ring Alliance, has been pursuing its own standard within the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE). But industry sources say a range of issues, including higher cost, have brought RPR's goals into controversy, at least temporarily (see RPR: RIP?

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