The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has approved a standard for 10 Gigabit Ethernet over copper, opening the way for short-reach, high-speed data centre links that are more affordable for the enterprise.

The 802.3ak standard will be implemented as 10GBASE-CX4, providing 10Gbit/sec over dual twinaxial cables, similar to the cabling used in Infiniband networking. This is the first copper Ethernet standard not to use category 5/6 cabling technology.

"The new standard provides an economical way for Ethernet switches and server clusters located within 15m of each other in equipment rooms and data centres to be interconnected at 10G bit/sec," said the IEEE.

Observers say that 10GBASE-CX4 ports will be more affordable to enterprises than current fibre-based 10G ports, which average around $10,000 per port, according to the Dell'Oro Group.

"We expect installation costs for copper 10GBASE-CX4 interconnections to be one-tenth that of comparable 10GBASE-optical solutions," said Dan Dove, chair of the 802.3ak Task Force and principal engineer, HP ProCurve Networking Business, in a statement.

The top three 10 Gigabit Ethernet companies in the fourth quarter of 2003, in terms of shipments, were Cisco Systems, Foundry Networks and Extreme Networks, according to Dell'Oro. All three saw at least double-digit growth for their products in the fourth quarter of 2003.

The 10 Gigabit Ethernet was originally designed as a long-haul carrier technology, specifically for replacing SONET OC192 in metro area networks with Ethernet. However, as enterprises began showing interests in 10G, and carriers cut back spending during the telecom bust, interest began to grow in a short-haul version of 10 Gigabit for switch-to-switch interconnects.

"The availability of 10GBASE-CX4 copper-based interface should accelerate the deployment of 10 Gigabit Ethernet," said Bob Grow, Chair of the 802.3 Working Group and a Principal Architect at Intel, in a statement.