An Ethernet Force to be Patented

High-speed 100 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) is not yet a standard, but at least one
vendor is already looking for patents. And getting them.

Networking vendor Force10 said that the U.S. Patent and Trademark
Office has awarded it U.S. patent number 7,124,502 titled, “Method of
fabricating a high-layer-count backplane.” The invention described in the patent is a key part of Force10’s TeraScale E-Series networking gear, which already supports 10GbE.

Currently the fastest Ethernet standard is 10GbE, though Force10 has been
helping to lead an effort to develop a standard for 100

Joel Goergen, chief scientist and vice president of technology at Force10, told that the backplane patent is
extremely critical for enabling a switch or router to support 100GbE.

The backplane is the element of the switch or router across which
all traffic travels. If the backplane does not have the capacity to support
traffic at 100Gb speeds, the switch or router will not be able to
support 100GbE.

In order to facilitate 100GbE traffic, the router or switch requires a large
number of signaling paths across the backplane to run at high speeds. Goergen said that the higher signaling path speed also requires a higher
power input than today’s switches and routers require for 10Gb speeds.

“These two requirements make the design of the backplane fundamentally
important to the ability of a switch or router to process traffic at 100GbE,” Goergen said. “The newest Force10 patent protects a unique design that
combines large numbers of signaling paths with thick power distribution
layers to ensure line-rate processing at 100Gb speeds and higher.”

The patented backplane technology approach not only provides for 100GbE but
also for more 10GbE and 1GbE ports, as well.

“The TeraScale E-Series backplane supports up to five terabits per second of
traffic, so as it is designed now, it can support up to four 100GbE ports at line-rate across all 14 slots in the chassis,” Goergen
explained. “It is also true that the TeraScale E-Series can currently
support 56 line-rate 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports.”

“Essentially, the backplane provides the theoretical maximum throughput that
a switch or router can handle,” Goergen added. “It doesn’t care whether that
traffic comes in a single 100GbE port or ten 10GbE ports.”

The new patent could potentially be licensed to others in the future, though
Goergen doesn’t see it happening anytime soon.

And Force10 might not have to wait very long to use it. “Based on the typical length of time it takes to work through the process within the IEEE, we expect to see a finalized 100GbE standard as early 2009,” Goergen said.

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