Alliance Forms to Extend Ethernet Standard into New Areas

The Ethernet Alliance, made up of 18 members, launches itself to promote the spread of Ethernet standard technologies. It also intends to act as a clearinghouse of vendor-neutral information on the application of those technologies.

A new networking industry alliance launched itself Tuesday to promote the further spread of the IEEE 802 Ethernet standard technologies.

The new Ethernet Alliance, made up of 18 founding members, intends to act as a clearinghouse of vendor-neutral information on the application of IEEE 802 Ethernet technologies, promote established and nascent Ethernet technologies through interoperability demonstrations and incubate new technologies based on Ethernet standards.

"As we move into new areas, Ethernet as a technology is still not understood. If people want to use Ethernet, heres a resource to show them how it works outside of the vendors pushing [their own] technology," said Brad Booth, president of the new alliance in Hillsboro, Ore.

The IEEE itself does not provide educational outreach, and its standards documents are written for vendor implementations of the technologies that form the standards.

The Ethernet Alliance will help to educate users of new Ethernet-based technologies in a vendor-neutral manner, according to Michael Bennett, senior network engineer at LBLnet Services Group at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.

"Typically the system vendors write white papers that explain the applications of new technologies, but these papers are usually not vendor-neutral. The alliance will provide vendor-neutral content and will answer questions that go beyond the scope of the standards documents, e.g. how a new PHY fits in the Ethernet ecosystem," said Bennett, who is a founding member of the Ethernet Alliance.

Enterprise network users can also influence the development of new standards that extend Ethernet by getting involved in the alliance, he added.

"Vendors look to end-users for input as it is ultimately those users who will buy the products they make. Joining the alliance and committing some effort to the development of new technologies would be the best way to help shape the future of Ethernet."

The Ethernet Alliance also hopes to change the pattern of forming alliances that are specific to new standards proposals as they wind their way through the standardization process.

"In the past weve formed alliances around specific technology efforts going on in the IEEE. But we found over time that is not very efficient," said Booth, referring to specific efforts such as the Gigabit Ethernet Alliance and 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance.

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Such technology-specific alliances dont always fulfill the real mission of the effort, he added.

But the formation of the overarching Ethernet Alliance could spark a fierce debate about whether such an effort is needed.

"I think thats a very mature way to handle things, but to be honest, Ethernet is kind of ubiquitous," said Frank Dzubeck, president of Communication Network Architects, a Washington, D.C., consulting firm.

"It got to be ubiquitous not because of alliances, but because of its simplicity, ease of use and inexpensiveness to manufacture," he added.

Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet, said he had not heard of the new alliance but was encouraged by the idea.

"This is the first Ive heard of the Ethernet Alliance, but I refuse to be offended. Neither Ethernet nor I have died and gone to heaven, so maybe the Ethernet Alliance is a great idea," said Metcalfe, who is now a general partner at Polaris Venture Partners in Waltham, Mass. "The very first organizations that did what IEEE 802.3 and the Ethernet Alliance seems to be up to were called the DIX [Digital Equipment Corp., Intel Corp., Xerox Corp.] Ethernet consortium, which became IEEE 802.3, and the Ethernet Bandwagon, which became Interop, both circa 1979. We started IEEE 802 before the dots. So, who will get the 40G-bps and 100G-bps Ethernet standards moving along through 802.3?"

The Ethernet Alliance, which numbers 18 founding members, is eyeing emerging technologies that could potentially extend Ethernet into consumer electronics, next-generation Ethernet speeds such as 40G bps or 100G bps for metropolitan area networks, and Ethernet Passive Optical Networks for residential access, Booth said.

Its first order of business is to recruit members to help with the effort, although that shouldnt be hard.

Some 40 organizations are waiting to sign up, Booth said. For 2006, the Ethernet Alliance will also focus on carrying out interoperability demonstrations of new technologies such as 10GBASE-T (10 Gigabit Ethernet on twisted pair wiring), influencing emerging standards for residential or consumer Ethernet, and incubating next-generation Ethernet technologies such as 100G bps Ethernet.

The Ethernet Alliance does not yet have an official relationship with the IEEE, but it is "looking to establish a relationship with their corporate advisory group," Booth said.

Founding member organizations include 3Com Corp., ADC Telecommunications Inc., Agere Systems Inc., AMCC (Applied Micro Circuits Corp.), Aquantia Corp., Broadcom Corp., Force10 Networks Inc., Foundry Networks Inc., Intel Corp., Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Pioneer Corporation, Quake Technologies Inc., Samsung Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., Tehuti Networks Ltd., Tyco Electronics Corp., UNH-IOL (the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory), and Xilinx Inc.

Editors Note: This story was updated to include comments from Bob Metcalfe.

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