The Importance of Standards in the Evolution Towards 800G Ethernet and Beyond
May 03, 2022
Standards like Ethernet, along with the engineers whose dedicated work creates them, enable a myriad of benefits for our digital world. From smartphones to smart home systems and beyond, these devices work as well as they do because of their native compatibility to universal interface standards that support seamless inter-device communication.
By 2025, the number of connected devices is expected to reach 38.6 billion and, according to IDC, annual data consumption is anticipated to increase to more than 180 zettabytes. To meet growing bandwidth demands, it’s imperative that SoC designers incorporate the latest high-speed interface standards with minimal latency into their designs. This bandwidth boom, spurred by compute-intensive applications such as hyperscale data centers and AI at the edge, is fueling the evolution toward 800G Ethernet and beyond.
How Standards Enhance the User Experience
The governing bodies behind the standards, such as IEEE and the Ethernet Technology Consortium, ensure that developers can create electronic products that interoperate and meet advanced security protocols. For example, to break through bandwidth limitations, high-performance computing SoCs need the fast data transfer and low latency that high-speed interfaces like PCI Express and CXL provide for inter-box communications. Before long, IEEE 100G SerDes standards for Ethernet will be ratified, enabling 800G with an economical 8x100G configuration.
When design teams make compliant devices, they don’t have to reinvent the wheel and can implement the standard as a verified IP block into their design, with the assurance that it will be compatible to a variety of devices. As such, having IP available in a timely manner to support specifications as they are ratified is essential for chip design and verification teams.
The Evolving Data Connectivity Backbone
Ethernet, which serves as the data connectivity backbone for the internet, dates back to the 1970s. With every generation of the standard, we can see how the market continues to seek higher speeds, as well as the technology’s potential to shape the world. Our connected world is only becoming more deeply entrenched, with more networked applications, from automotive systems to smart edge devices and HPC applications. The IEEE and consortium-driven Ethernet standards have adapted well over the years and promise to continue doing so.
Ethernet standards specifically govern how data is transferred between Ethernet connections. It has become the network technology of choice due to its flexibility, speed negotiation, backward compatibility, and its ability to use different kinds of media. In the face of increased demand for networking speed, lower error rates, and throughput performance within the data center, 800 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) has become the latest standard specification to make a splash. The Ethernet Technology Consortium announced in 2020 the 800GBASE-R specification for 800G Ethernet implementation based on 8 lane x 100 Gbps technology. With this, adopters could deploy advanced, high-bandwidth, interoperable Ethernet technologies.
At twice the bandwidth of the 400 GbE specification, 800 GbE allows for significantly more data to be pushed through data centers, decreasing latency and making the entire internet faster as adoption increases. The specification does call for a new media access control (MAC) and physical coding sublayer (PCS) while repurposing two sets of the existing 400 GbE logic to distribute the data across eight 106 Gbps physical lanes. Since the PCS is reused, the forward error correction is retained for simple compatibility with existing physical layer specifications. The transition from 400 GbE to 800 GbE should be fairly smooth: with double the lanes, data centers will not need to completely change their port configuration.
In its early days, 800 GbE was applied in high-density switches in large data centers. However, the number of applications it can support has grown. At the rate at which things are evolving, it won’t be a surprise to see a flurry of design prototypes of 1.6 Tb switches this year.