The Need for Speed: What Is 400G Ethernet?

The Need for Speed: What Is 400G Ethernet?

You don’t have to be a Top Gun fan to understand the need for speed is central to data transmission. Streaming content, AI-enabled bots, and an array of Internet of Things (IoT) devices require that more data be delivered faster over increasing numbers of distributed networks. When transmission speeds moved from megabit to gigabit at the dawn of the 21st century, few imagined how soon there would be a need to transmit hundreds of gigabits of data in seconds. This market demand drove the Institute of Electronics and Engineering (IEEE) to release standards for Ethernet speeds of 2.5, 5, and 25 gigabits per second (Gbps), quickly followed by standards for 40 and 100 Gbps. Within a year of releasing the 100 Gbps Ethernet standard, the IEEE approved standards for 200G and 400G Ethernet (802.3bs). 

What is 400G Ethernet?

As data centers began to adopt cloud infrastructures, the demand for higher-speed transmission rates increased, culminating in 400G technology. The terms 400G, 400G Ethernet, 400GbE, and 400Gb/s are often used interchangeably, though 400GbE and 400G Ethernet typically refer to transmitting data over Ethernet cables, while the 400G designation applies to fiber optic networks.

400G, 400G Ethernet, 400GbE, 400Gb/sHow Does 400G Ethernet Work?

This Ethernet standard uses new encoding schemes and higher signaling rates to achieve transmission speeds that are four times faster than 100G Ethernet. A 400GbE network sends 400 billion bits of data per second across an Ethernet-based network. 

These newer standards use a four-level pulse amplitude modulation (PAM4) as opposed to non-return-to-zero (NRZ), which uses a level two pulse amplitude modulation. The NRZ method is a binary code that uses low and high signal levels to represent binary zero or one. NRZ can only transmit one bit per signal period. 

PAM4 uses four signal levels ranging from zero to three, allowing it to operate at a faster signaling rate. With PAM4, designers can implement eight lanes of 50GbE or four lanes of 100GbE.

The IEEE standard also establishes forward error connection (FEC) procedures to detect and correct transmission errors. This FEC mechanism increases the line rate of a 400G Ethernet link to 425 Gbps. 

Why 400G Ethernet is Important

With this Ethernet, data centers can expand their capabilities, industries can adopt high-performance computing, and cities can keep pace with the growing deployment of IoT devices. 400G Ethernet provides the infrastructure necessary to support the following burgeoning technologies:

High-Performance Computing (HPC)

HPC refers to systems designed specifically to process massive amounts of data and perform complex calculations at high speeds. Industries such as healthcare, weather forecasting, and manufacturing must ingest and utilize ever-shifting data streams and analyze the results to deliver time-critical information. Whether responding to robotic-assisted surgeries or identifying life-threatening hurricanes, HPC relies on 400G Ethernet to deliver life-saving results.

Hyperscale Data Centers

Hyperscale refers to large data centers that process and store high volumes of data. As eCommerce continues to grow in relevance, payment processors and online marketplaces need infrastructures that can process transactions quickly and store pertinent information for data analysis. With consumers expected to spend $11 trillion on online shopping in 2024, hyperscale data centers will rely on the high transmission speeds 400G Ethernet can provide.

Large Enterprises

Large metropolitan cities and corporations perform extensive data transfers in their everyday operations. Data from remote sensors can help cities manage their traffic flow if they have sufficient transmission speeds to collect and process the data in real time. Corporations can transfer vast amounts of data from one office to another. Manufacturing sites may need to exchange highly detailed drawings or plans. Without high-speed Ethernet, productivity could suffer as employees burn resources waiting to receive critical information.

Not only does 400G Ethernet address the growing need for speed, but it can also help future-proof businesses and municipalities.

Hyperscale Data Center 400G

What Are the Advantages of 400G Ethernet?

Aside from an increase in data transmission speed and improved network performance, 400G Ethernet provides organizations with the following advantages:

Ability to Grow: With this Ethernet, organizations are ready to meet the demands of increased data traffic and can quickly scale as they grow and expand.

Improved Efficiency: Faster transmission speeds eliminate latency issues that can slow performance, reducing bottlenecks and improving response times. Workflows won’t be interrupted, and employees won’t have to wait for the critical information they need to do their jobs.

Simplified Networks: Network administrators no longer need to add connections, replace equipment, or reroute traffic to compensate for slow connections. Networks can be reduced in size by replacing slower solutions with 400G Ethernet.

Adopting this Ethernet standard positions businesses for advances in technology. They will be ready for the increased need for speed.

What Are the Challenges of 400G Ethernet?

As with any new technology, deployment is challenging. For example, although IEEE has approved a 400G Ethernet standard, not all devices are compatible. Organizations need to ensure that their implementation plan supports device interoperability. 

Transceivers may experience heat-related issues, which can cause distortion and data loss. Older QSFP transceivers, designed for 40G Ethernet, can create reliability problems when used with 400G Ethernet. Stress testing transceivers in high-performance environments can identify potential issues before deployment.

Using PAM4 technology with 400G Ethernet can be challenging for those who have only worked with NZR deployments. Providing training and resources can help overcome a lack of experience.

What is the Future of 400G Ethernet?

The demand for high-speed data transmission is only beginning. IEEE is already studying the need for terabyte capabilities, which internet experts see on the horizon. While some organizations may require advances in transmission speed for their high-performance computing and hyperscale data centers, most businesses will find that 400G Ethernet meets their needs.

Companies should assess their existing infrastructure and growing demand for increased transmission speeds to determine when to invest in 400G Ethernet. It isn’t a question of whether businesses will need the technology, but when they will feel the need for speed.

Versa Technology is one of the largest suppliers of Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology, offering solutions for today’s needs and tomorrow’s demands. Visit our website for more information on our products.