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Group begins work on 400 Gbps QSFP interfaces

Thirteen networking and electronics industry suppliers said they would work together to develop a new generation of double-density quad small form-factor pluggable (QSFP) interfaces that would support speeds of up to 400 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE).

The Multi Source Agreement (MSA) Group is spearheading the effort; members include Broadcom, Brocade, Cisco, Intel, Juniper Networks and Mellanox Technologies.

The new double-density interface is being engineered to accommodate a projected spike in the demand for bandwidth that’s being fueled by more Internet users, mobile devices and machine-to-machine connections.

A Cisco Visual Networking Index Forecast, released last spring, projected that IP traffic will more than triple between 2014 and 2019, reaching 2 zettabytes, or 2 billion terabytes, by 2020.

Higher-speed lanes anchor development efforts

The new interface will build on the existing QSFP form factor, a four-lane electrical interface that allows servers and other networking devices to be connected to switches. Individual QSFP lanes now operate at 10 Gbps or 25 Gbps, enabling throughputs of 40 Gbps or 100 Gbps, respectively.

Double-density interfaces will employ eight lanes that operate at either 25 Gbps or 50 Gbps, quadrupling the aggregate to as much as 400 Gbps. This can enable up to 14.4 Tbps aggregate bandwidth in a single switch slot, MSA said.

The next-gen transceivers are being developed even as vendors like Cisco develop higher capacity ASICs. The firm’s most recent cloud-scale ASICs, for example, can support up to 36 ports of 100 GbE in a single design. As these speeds continue to increase, a higher-capacity QSFP interface is essential.

MSA said the new double-density designs will be backwards compatible to allow customers to increase network speeds without having to redesign the underlying architecture.

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