The year 2018 is shaping up to be a banner year for all things Ethernet.
First of all, the ubiquitous networking technology is having a banner year already in the data center where in the first quarter alone, the switching market recorded its strongest year-over-year revenue growth in over five years, and 100G Ethernet port shipments more than doubled year-over-year, according to a report by Dell’Oro Group researchers.
The 16% switching growth was, "driven by the large-tier cloud hyperscalers such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Facebook but also by enterprise customers,” said Sameh Boujelbene, senior director at Dell’Oro.
IDC's “Worldwide Quarterly Ethernet Switch Tracker” said the Ethernet switch market grew 10.9% in 1Q18 – a strong uptick from the 3.5% growth recorded year-over-year between 1Q16 and 1Q17. The quarter's growth also outpaced the full year 2017 growth of 5.5%.
"There are two macro trends that contributed to growth," wrote Rohit Mehra, vice president of network infrastructure at IDC in the report. "The emergence of next-generation software-based network-intelligence platforms that add to the intrinsic value of networking, and the push by large enterprises, hyperscalers and service providers to leverage faster Ethernet switching speeds for cloud rollouts. "
100G Ethernet is booming
Of particular interest to most observers is the growing migration to 100G Ethernet.
“There was on the order of about 1 million 100G Ethernet ports shipped in 2016, this year we expect somewhere near 12 million to ship,” said Boujelbene. “Hyperscalers certainly drove the market early-on but large enterprises are increasingly looking at that technology for the increased speed, price/performance it brings.”
Cisco agreed with that observation.
“The requirement for more high-speed ports and more data being driven from the dense edges of the network is driving the upgrade of the backbone,” said Roland Acra, senior vice president and General Manager of Cisco’s Data Center Business Group. “We see the need especially from financial and trade floor customers who need the bandwidth and speed.”
While 100G is ramping up so is another level of Ethernet speed – the 25G segment, which saw revenue increase 176 percent year-over-year with port shipments growing 359 percent year over year in 1Q18, according to IDC.
The push to 25G is largely due to top-of-rack requirements in dense data-center server access ports.
“Cisco had a head start on 25G – they have about 80% of the market – but we expect Arista, Dell, Juniper and others to see growth this year,” said Boujelbene.
Ethernet enhanced by other technology advances
There has been other activity in the Ethernet world beyond speeds and feeds. The Ethernet Alliance has detailed work coming out of the recent IEEE 802.3 Interim Meeting which forwarded a variety of Ethernet project areas, including multiple physical layer specifications for Ethernet speeds ranging from 10Mbps to 400Gbps; Power over Ethernet (PoE) advancements; YANG data models for efficient Ethernet network management; and the next generation of Ethernet Passive Optical Network Physical Layer.
Ethernet just continues to expand support new applications, and 45 years after it was invented that’s a claim few technologies can make, said John D’Ambrosia, chairman of the Ethernet Alliance.
D’Ambrosia noted a standard for higher power POE – 802.3bt, Power over Ethernet over 4 Pairs – is nearing completion and should be ratified by September. This adjustment to the current PoE standard supports up to 100 watts, according to the IEEE. Other PoE standards define 15.4-60 watt systems.
With or without the higher power, products supporting POE are expected to explode. Dell'Oro says more than 700 million PoE-enabled Ethernet switch ports and 280 million PoE devices will ship in the next 5 years.
“We think the applications for POE are limitless,” D’Ambrosia said. Some of those applications include more efficient building lighting, simplified power to VoIP phones, sensors, meters and wireless access points to name a few.