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Start-ups go gigabit at Interop

Interop More than 20 start-ups see the Spring Networld+Interop '97 show as a prime opportunity to show off their Gigabit Ethernet products.

Interop Gigabit Ethernet start-ups hoping to attract users with new high-speed technology will be among the plethora of networking firms converging on the Nevada desert next week for Spring Networld+Interop '97.

More than 20 start-ups see the Las Vegas, Nevada, show as a prime opportunity to prove the effectiveness of their Gigabit Ethernet products based on an emerging standard expected to be ratified next year. The next-generation pipe pushes data across networks at a 1,000-mbps clip, a huge jump from current Ethernet limits of 100 mbps. The gigabit-speed scramble highlights the start-ups' need to gain visibility in a market that is expected to reach $1 billion by the year 2000.

Dataquest analyst Don Miller said it's time for the myriad of gigabit entrants to prove that their gear works: "We've heard the great plans, we've seen the arm-waving, the chest-beating; now show me."

The gigabit crowd includes standard Ethernet switch and repeater entries, silicon chip upstarts, server adapter card vendors, and companies pushing an interesting combination of gigabit speeds and "layer-three" functionality in one switch.

Layer three refers to a protocol communications layer. In a stack of seven, layer three is where network protocols such as IP run across networks. Companies that are combining layer-three and layer-two gigabit speeds include Prominet, Foundry Networks, and Extreme Networks.

Another highlight for sun-baked Interop attendees will be the re-emergence of networking power Bay Networks. The company is taking a high profile at the show to push a return to its roots dubbed "Adaptive Networking." The company is expecting to hammer at its core strengths in campus LAN switching and technological expertise while highlighting its recent forays into hot markets like IP switching, with SwitchNode.

"What Bay has to do is reaffirm their presence in the market," said Skip MacAskill, analyst with the Gartner Group. "They do that by indicating how they are going to push forward, what areas are going to be strategic for them."

The company has been notably quiet since David House took over as CEO last fall in the aftermath of poor earnings and executive shuffles, choosing to produce point solutions without divulging any overarching strategy. That will change at Interop. "The industry needs to see they are proactive and not reactive," MacAskill said.

Another networking giant, Cisco Systems, will also be busy at the show, unveiling a new line of access concentrators that can support voice, data, and video traffic in one device (see related story). Rumors abound that customers may also get a sneak peek at the forthcoming Big Fast Router (BFR), the code name for a next-generation box the company is developing to stave off high-speed switches based on IP and router competitors. The box is rumored to push data at speeds of at least 30 gbps.

Analysts said the Interop stage is a likely place for a BFR sighting. It's arrival has been rumored for so long, customers may start thinking of it as a "vaporware" product if Cisco keeps it behind closed doors for much longer. "Obviously, they need to put in a showing," remarked Craig Johnson, principal analyst for Current Analysis. "They're behind the eight ball on that end."

ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) leader Fore Systems will be part of a demonstration touting Multi-Protocol Over ATM (MPOA), an emerging standard that allows multiple communications protocols to run across an ATM switching fabric. Fore will announce support for the protocol in its internetworking software package.

Interop starts Tuesday, May 6, and continues through the week.