Ultra Ethernet Consortium Grows to 55 Members, Reveals Some Details on Upcoming HPC Backbone Tech

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Written By Pinang Driod

The Ultra Ethernet Consortium (UEC) has announced this week that the next-generation interconnection consortium has grown to 55 members. And as the group works towards developing the initial version of their ultra-fast Ethernet standard, they have released some of the first technical details on the upcoming standard.

Formed in the summer of 2023, the UEC aims to develop a new standard for interconnection for AI and HPC datacenter needs, serving as a de-facto (if not de-jure) alternative to InfiniBand, which is largely under the control of NVIDIA these days. The UEC began to accept new members back in November, and just in five months’ time it gained 45 new members, which highlights massive interest for the new technology. The consortium now boasts 55 members and 715 industry experts, who are working across eight technical groups. 

There is a lot of work at hand for the UEC, as the group has laid out in their latest development blog post, as the consortium works to to build a unified Ethernet-based communication stack for high-performance networking supporting artificial intelligence and high-performance computing clusters. The consortium’s technical objectives include developing specifications, APIs, and source code for Ultra Ethernet communications, updating existing protocols, and introducing new mechanisms for telemetry, signaling, security, and congestion management. In particular, Ultra Ethernet introduces the UEC Transport (UET) for higher network utilization and lower tail latency to speed up RDMA (Remote Direct Memory Access) operation over Ethernet. Key features include multi-path packet spraying, flexible ordering, and advanced congestion control, ensuring efficient and reliable data transfer.

These enhancements are designed to address the needs of large AI and HPC clusters — with separate profiles for each type of deployment — though everything is done in a surgical manner to enhance the technology, but reuse as much of the existing Ethernet as possible to maintain cost efficiency and interoperability.

The consortium’s founding members include AMD, Arista, Broadcom, Cisco, Eviden (an Atos Business), HPE, Intel, Meta, and Microsoft. After the Ultra Ethernet Consortium (UEC) began to accept new members in October, 2023, numerous industry heavyweights have joined the group, including Baidu, Dell, Huawei, IBM, Nokia, Lenovo, Supermicro, and Tencent.

The consortium currently plans to release the initial 1.0 version of the UEC specification publicly sometime in the third quarter of 2024.

“There was always a recognition that UEC was meeting a need in the industry,” said J Metz, Chair of the UEC Steering Committee. “There is a strong desire to have an open, accessible, Ethernet-based network specifically designed to accommodate AI and HPC workload requirements. This level of involvement is encouraging; it helps us achieve the goal of broad interoperability and stability.”

While it is evident that then Ultra Ethernet Consortium is gaining support across the industry, it is still unclear where other industry behemoths like AWS and Google stand. While the hardware companies involved can design Ultra Ethernet support into their hardware and systems, the technology ultimately exists to serve large datacenter and HPC system operators. So it will be interesting to see what interest they take in (and how quickly they adopt) the nascent Ethernet backbone technology once hardware incorporating it is ready.

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