In the past, you could send data over campus wide-area networks (WANs) with proprietary techniques or by using 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) link aggregation, but the speed wasn't enough. It was never enough. That's why Internet backbone providers were thrilled when in June 2010, the IEEE ratified IEEE 802.3ba, which sets down the technical guidelines for 40 Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) and 100GigE Ethernet. Now, companies and organizations are beginning to deploy these faster-than-fast optical Internet backbones.
Why would anyone need 100GigE Ethernet? Oh my friend, we've come a long, long way from the days when a T1, with its 1.544 Megabits per second (Mbps), was enough for an Internet Service Provider (ISP) connection. Core networking applications have demonstrated the need for bandwidth beyond the reach of most ISPs. In addition, high bandwidth applications, such as video on demand from companies like Hulu and Netflix are already demanding all the bandwidth they can get – and more.
For example, Netflix alone, in the first quarter of 2011, was taking up 20% of all Internet bandwidth. Other video traffic, such as YouTube and Flash, consume about 22%. That’s a lot of cute kitty videos and Hobbit movie trailers.
Paul Sagan, CEO of Akamai, a content delivery network (CDN), said in Akamai's latest quarterly report that he only thinks this trend will continue. “The amount of video over the Internet is becoming the majority of Internet traffic for a lot of carriers,” he says.
So what does this have to do with you—other than a reminder that blocking most video sites from your intranet is probably a good idea if you want your network to be responsive? Everything. You see, your traffic goes over that same Internet, which is beginning to get swamped by all that video traffic.
How bad is it? DE-CIX, a central Internet peering site in Frankfurt, Germany that works with over 400 ISPs, reports that at peak times, 1.4 terabits of data now pass through DE-CIX every second. That's twice as much as the center saw just one year ago, in 2010. By 2015, DE-CIX expects traffic to — brace yourself — go up twenty times from its current level (PDF).
ISPs are beginning to address this problem by a variety of methods. ISPs such as Comcast, Charter, and Cox are responding to this demand by capping how much traffic any given person or company can receive or send in a month. If your corporate Internet bandwidth seems pokier towards the end of the month, check your ISP's Terms of Service (ToS) and speak with their service department to see if you've been put on a bandwidth diet because of overages.
The bottom line is that there's not enough high-speed Internet to go around. The sooner we get 802.3ba deployed the better. It's not just that consumer video demand is getting in the way. The recent Amazon cloud failure, for example, was worse than it had to be for many corporate customers because companies only had a single server instance running in the northern Virginia data center in one availability zone. If they had set up a mirrored instance at another data center in another availability zone, their sites and services would have kept running. But to do that, you need to pay for two server instances instead of one, and you have to hope that gigabytes of data can be kept in sync over the Internet.
Clearly, we need a faster Internet. 802.3ab can address this need over both copper and optical fibre. For now, though, you'll only find optical products that can work over single-mode optical fibre (SMF) and Optical Multimode 3 and 4 (OM3/4) multi-mode optical fibre. That means, with an up-to-date fibre optical network, you should be able to deploy 40/100GigE on your campus or between urban office branches.
Internet2, the consortium for ultra-high speed Internet for research and education institutions, is already working on deploying a new, nationwide 100 GigE network. The group expects to complete deployment of this new network in 2013. That's fine for scholars, but the business world needs 100GigE backbones as well.
Verizon has announced that before 2011 ends it will deploy 100GigE for part of its European IP backbone. Verizon will deploy this network from Paris to Frankfurt.
Need I say that this kind of high-end networking deployment doesn't come cheap? Fortunately, an industry consortium, 10x10 MSA, is striving to bring 100GigE optical transceivers into an affordable price range. The consortium has support from companies that need all the cheap bandwidth they can get (such as Google and Facebook) and networking industry support from companies like Brocade.
CIOs need to talk to their ISPs about their ToS in regard to business pricing and service levels. You need to know what their plans are for 802.3ba, and the plans of their backbone providers. You may not be in the business of deploying heavy-duty Internet, but you're certainly a top user. If neither your ISP or backbone provider has plans for building out their infrastructure to 40/100GigE, start looking for another provider.
After all, even if you don't need that kind of bandwidth, you're going to be forced to share your ISP's bandwidth with many other users, including people watching old episodes of Lost on their TVs, and there won't be enough bandwidth to go around.
Indeed, Facebook engineer Donn Lee told the Ethernet Alliance's Technology Exploration Forum last February that there is already a need for 100-Gigabit Ethernet, “and where we're going for our upgrades, there is already a need for 1 Terabit.”
He won't get it, though.
The next jump will be to 400GigE and after that… Chris Cole, director of engineering at Finisar, a leading optical component maker, thinks 1.4Tbps Ethernet might be the next goal. Just don't ask how we'll manage 1.4Tbps. We don't know yet.