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Net vendors gear up for speed

A slew of new gear from both major networking players and eager start-ups will pepper the landscape from now until next month's Networld+Interop in Atlanta.

A slew of new gear from both major networking players and eager start-ups will pepper the landscape from now until next month's Networld+Interop in Atlanta.

The focus of the rollouts? High-speed gigabit-rate technology that lets current networks build faster backbones to connect a multisite network together. Upgrades are becoming a necessity, given the explosion of the Net and the implementation of intranets.

3Com got things going this week with the announcement of a new switch that functions at a communications layer normally dominated by routers talking to each other.

But Cabletron Systems may be the one taking center stage in Atlanta with a variety of gigabit-speed uplinks to popular networking hardware chassis.

As reported last week by CNET's NEWS.COM, Cabletron has invested an undisclosed sum in Yago Systems, a start-up delving into technology that lets switches include routing communications and adds wire-speed hardware features that could cater to service provider networks. Company officials confirmed the investment, but no official statement concerning the investment is planned. The technology will be on display at the show, though.

This new variety of switch that performs routing functions is gaining steam as a potential alternative to more expensive routers in some networks. "There's nothing wrong with routing," said Frank Hayes, program manager for LAN switching at Cabletron. "The problem has always been with routers."

That investment could jibe nicely with new prestandard Gigabit Ethernet uplinks for Cabletron's popular SmartSwitch 2000, 6000, and MMAC-Plus platforms, according to Hayes. Previously announced gigabit-speed modules for the MMAC-Plus will be upgraded to the latest prestandard for the technology, which has entered the final voting phase before ratification (expected in the first half of next year).

Cisco Systems is expected to unwrap its gigabit switching plan as well. And the final member of the so-called Big Four networking players will also be busy, as Bay Networks is expected to repackage existing technology it inherited through the acquisition of gigabit start-up Rapid City Communications.

3Com evidently couldn't wait for the networking summit in Atlanta. The company this week rolled out a new CoreBuilder 3500 switch, due to ship by the end of this year, which includes routing communications via a new hardware chip architecture called the flexible intelligent routing engine (FIRE). A typical 3500 configuration, with 24 Ethernet ports and IP-based software, will cost $27,395.

The company also previewed a CoreBuilder 9000 box that will use the same architecture to speed data across both ATM and Gigabit Ethernet-based networks. The company says the switch will zip network traffic at up to 56 million packets per second.

"I think the proof will really come when the 9000 hits the market," noted Craig Johnson, an analyst with Current Analysis.

All this gigabit-speed talk may be offering hope to the plethora of start-ups that have dived into the market, but analysts say now that the big players of the networking industry are in the game, the technology is not what will sell the product, and overall strategies will start to carry the day.