Finding 10GBase-T

July 1, 2006
One of the best punchlines in the movie Finding Nemo comes at the very end, when the fish with whom Nemo spent quality time...

One of the best punchlines in the movie Finding Nemo comes at the very end, when the fish with whom Nemo spent quality time in an aquarium inside a dentist’s office finally make their escape. Each is inside a plastic bag partially filled with water (long story, but worth watching to find out why) floating in Sydney Harbour. They all celebrate when the last of the gang makes it over a ledge and into the water.

After a brief spell of vocal rejoicing, they all go quiet for a few seconds before one of them asks, “Now what?”

Perhaps I’m the only person on the planet who thinks of that movie when contemplating data networking (or vice versa), but the recent official approval of the IEEE’s 802.3an (10GBase-T) specifications brought that scene to mind. Bob Grow, chair of IEEE 802.3, confirmed for me that “P802.3an was approved by the IEEE-SA Standards Board on June 8.” Let the 10-Gig networking products fly through the distribution channels as quickly as data passes through a 10GBase-T system!

Except, there are no 10GBase-T products on the shelves.

For the time being at least, those who crave this ultra-fast transmission speed and have bypassed fiber-based 10-Gigabit Ethernet awaiting the more economical twisted-pair flavor, will have to wait at least a little bit longer-much like Nemo’s friends had to wait until they got out of those plastic bags before they could experience the true freedom of living in the ocean.

One of the most notable producers of 10GBase-T “guts,” SolarFlare Communications, merged this past spring with another producer of Ethernet “guts,” Level 5 Networks. Word from people who know a lot more than I do is that this merger is good news for the prospect of 10GBase-T equipment coming to market sooner rather than later. When I say that SolarFlare is one of the “most notable” vendors among its peers, that is strictly selfish speak. They’re most notable to me, and perhaps to you, because representatives of the company have shown up and made presentations at places like BICSI conferences, and have published articles in magazines like this one. More significantly, the company has representation on TIA committees that are putting the finishing touches on 10GBase-T cabling specifications. Those representatives also liaise between the TIA and the IEEE on matters like 10GBase-T and Augmented Category 6 cabling.

While we obviously will wait a little longer for 10-Gig copper networking gear to appear, as you no doubt are aware, there is no shortage of cabling systems that absolutely assure us they are equipped to handle 10GBase-T traffic. Well, as the saying goes (and because I recently enjoyed the latest Disney/Pixar movie, Cars), the rubber will soon meet the road on that claim.

Some of the earliest-installed pre-standard Augmented Category 6 systems will have been in place for more than two years before they are attached to real 10-Gig equipment. Not surprisingly, some things have changed since those first days of Auggie Cat 6. Some manufacturers have altered cable designs to maximize alien-crosstalk performance, although they stand by their original designs’ ability to support full 10-Gig transmission.

Things have changed, probably more dramatically, all the way up the food chain to the chip or “guts” level I referred to earlier. The protocol will now transmit up to 500 MHz, not 625. Going hand-in-hand with that is a change in encoding schemes. It’s no wonder it will be a little while before we see 10GBase-T gear commercially available.

When we do see that equipment on the market, I’ll once again think back to Finding Nemo, this time to the final dialogue between the title character and his father, Marlin. After overprotecting his son for the youngster’s entire life, Marlin tells him as he heads off to school one day, “Now, go have an adventure.”

For all of you looking forward to deploying 10GBase-T, from Sydney Harbour to Silicon Valley, here’s hoping that after up to a couple years of carefully installing, maintaining, and probably overprotecting your cabling system, your plunge into the world of 10-Gig is anything but an adventure.

Chief Editor
[email protected]

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