Xerox will be hosting a celebration to honour the 30-year old Ethernet standard on Wednesday, at the legendary Xerox Palo Alto Research Centre.
The standard's creator Bob Metcalfe recently spoke with Computerworld about Ethernet and where he sees it going.
"Here it is 2003, it's certainly not the thing I invented in 1973, and a lot of people have gotten involved, so I'm not claiming credit for Ethernet. But it's my good fortune that the word Ethernet has been chosen. Occasionally, I even hear 802.11 wireless even referred to as wireless Ethernet. So, what is Ethernet today? It's quite a bit different than the CSMA/CD (Carrier Sense Multiple Access/Collision Detection) thing that Dave Boggs and I built in '74 and so forth. The packet format has persevered, so you might call that the Ethernet. Ethernet's collisions, which were the source of such controversy in the '80s, seem to have disappeared. There hasn't been one reported recently."
Looking forward, Metcalfe said: "They're working on 40Gbit/sec., and we started at 2.94Mbit/sec., which we thought was dazzlingly fast. And it's also being used in applications like metro access and 802.11 wireless. In the future, 10Gbit, 40Gbit and 100Gbit Ethernet are going to make Fibre Channel unnecessary, and it will fall. Cellular telephones are under attack by 802.11. All those may or may not fall to Ethernet."
"We're already at 10Gbit Ethernet, but it is being adopted slowly because the price is too high for most. How often have I heard that story? The adoption of 10Mbit/sec. was slow because the price was too high. AppleTalk at 250Kbit/sec. was a lot cheaper, and 10Meg had a steep hill to climb. Prices come down, and performance goes up."
Looking at the future, he says: "Here we are today at 10Gbit/sec. Ethernet being used in some places, which is a factor of 3,000 times where we were 30 years ago, if my math is correct. That's a factor of 10 times the speed each 10 years, so we're at 10Gig now, so in 10 years we'll be at 10Tbit/sec., if my math is correct."
The industry veteran is careful to counsel caution - there may be no need to accelerate speeds so far: "Either the laws of physics will impinge, or the requirement for bandwidth will flatten out. That is, people would stop thinking of all those things to do with all that bandwidth.
Metcalfe believes video will drive demands for more bandwidth: "Not only will the Internet go to more places and homes and businesses and mobile devices, but the driving force for a long time will be upgrading all of that to carry video so we can have video-conferencing, video-telephone, video-merchandising, video-we-can't-imagine, video-everything."
Metcalfe discusses the adoption of the name Ethernet: "The luminiferous ether was once theorized to pervade all of space and was passive and omnipresent, a medium for the propagation of electromagnetic waves and particularly carrying light from the sun to the earth. That was the 1800s, and around 1900, thanks to Michaelson, Morley and Einstein, the ether was determined not to exist.
"So in 1973, while searching for a word to describe the medium that would be everywhere, that would be passive and would serve as a medium for the propagation of electromagnetic waves into particular data packets, we took that word that had fallen into disuse and called it the ether network."