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Net gear providers think speed

Entrenched networking companies and aspiring players alike have gathered at this year's Networld+Interop with one thing in mind: speed.

    ATLANTA--Entrenched networking companies and aspiring players alike have gathered at this year's Networld+Interop with one thing in mind: speed.

    Once again networking heads have convened in order to view the latest and greatest in networking technology. This year, speed is on the minds of most, with the Net taxing the performance of current far-flung networks and intranet technologies, delivering critical in-house data is becoming a requirement to stay competitive in corporate enterprises.

    Every Net gear company, it seems, has an answer.

    The most interesting move of the show may be the unveiling of gigabit-speed switching wares from perennial networker Cisco Systems (CSCO). Normally, the company does not discuss products until they are within a short distance of being shipped to customers. In Cisco's booth for customers to peruse, however, were a variety of Gigabit Ethernet modules and uplinks for the company's popular Catalyst switching line and 7500 routers, even though the company insists it won't ship the gear until the first half of next year.

    Cisco officials have said that a public airing of its strategy was necessary, since there have been persistent rumors swirling around the company's strategy for Gigabit Ethernet and the state of the chip technology it acquired from gigabit start-up Granite Systems last September. Some Silicon Valley insiders have heard rumors that Cisco may even be eyeing another acquisition in the gigabit arena due to concerns over the applicability of the Granite technology.

    A standard for the emerging next-generation Ethernet technology will not be ratified until next March, but a plethora of established companies and start-ups are already shipping or plan to ship pre-standard equipment. At this stage, according to most observers, there will be few, if any, changes to the final proposal.

    In the Gigabit Ethernet Alliance booth at the show, 20 companies are showing gigabit-speed gear interoperating on a network, but Cisco's implementations are nowhere to be found, despite their presence in the company's booth a short distance away.

    "They are a member, they are a founding member, they're showing up at all the meetings, they're actively involved," noted an alliance spokesman.

    But Cisco officials remain confident its dominant presence in corporate networks will mitigate issues related to the timing of product rollouts. "I think we have the advantage of an installed base and proven technology," said Nathan Walker, product line manager within Cisco's workgroup business unit. "That's tough to compete against."

    Other networking giants such as 3Com, Cabletron Systems, and Bay Networks have bought, invested, or developed their own gigabit-speed gear. Samples of the technology--some of which is shipping--are being shown at the show.

    "If you're using the argument that 'we aren't there because the standard isn't there yet,' then that's a pretty poor argument," said Frank Hayes, program manager for LAN switching at Cabletron. "If you don't enter in this relative time space, you're behind the power curve."

    Gigabit-speed isn't the only area where Cisco is taking hits. Pesky start-up Ipsilon Networks unveiled a new switch based on ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) technology and IP (Internet protocol), the dominant means of communication in the Net age.

    The new gear is targeted at service providers and uses a variety of interfaces as a means to combine SONet (synchronous optical networking) and Frame Relay traffic, typical LAN (local area network) topologies, and next-generation gigabit interfaces. The new switch is due to ship in December.

    Company officials say their gear is targeted at networks that want to upgrade from Cisco's 7500 line of routers. An IP switch from Ipsilon costs markedly less than a router, but it supports various routing protocols in accompanying software.

    Digital Equipment is another company that has found the gigabit religion, despite ongoing rumors that the company plans to dispose of its networking division. A new switch from the company combines gigabit speeds with traditional Fast Ethernet. The box is due to ship by February of next year.