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Compaq makes end play

Compaq plans to tackle remote access and ATM technology and offer Gigabit Ethernet for server clustering in a bid to provide end-to-end networking options.

Compaq Computer (CPQ) would like to expand its networking business to offer customers an end-to-end solution.

That's why by the end of the year, the Houston, Texas-based PC and server giant expects to tackle remote access and asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) technology, as well as offering Gigabit Ethernet as a clustering option for servers.

"We're starting to really make some moves in the switching arena," said Ed Reynolds, Compaq's director of marketing for its Communications Products Division. "There's really only one piece that's missing and that's the remote access area."

"I think Compaq has a major stake in owning both ends of the connection," Reynolds continued, noting that offering remote access products could be "the most significant value-add" the company has in networking, due to its dominance in PCs and servers.

Reynolds noted that remote access leader Ascend Communications does not offer servers or PCs. The executive said the company is looking at ISDN, DSL, and high-speed modem technologies. Expect a remote access server offering to appear by the end of the year.

Reynolds also said the company was looking closely at ATM from a tactical and strategic perspective. By late this year, he said Compaq would offer--or have the necessary partnerships in place--to offer ATM network interface cards (NIC) for its servers as well as uplinks for its switches. Compaq is investigating the volume opportunity in this space, Reynolds said.

Strategically, the company is weighing whether to offer an ATM switch or wait until the Gigabit Ethernet market unfolds. Compaq is targeting the small office and work group for its switching products, so ATM may cost too much to provide a volume switch for this space. "I'm not saying we're not going to do it, we're watching it," Reynolds said. "Gigabit could take a significant chunk of the local-area-network ATM market."

Compaq is a well-known contributor to the work of the Gigabit Ethernet Alliance, the next-generation of Ethernet and will offer NICs for its servers as well as uplinks in its switches for gigabit speeds. The company is also among several companies hard at work integrating Microsoft's Wolfpack software clustering extensions so that failover--and eventually distributed--clustering of servers can be offered on Intel-based servers.

The company sees a gigabit speed link between servers as an alternative for customers wishing to maximize clustering throughput. "We also see Gigabit Ethernet as a viable technology for clustering servers," said Jeff Wilbur, Compaq's director of marketing for networking products.

And in general, the company is still bullish on gigabit technology as the standards effort comes toward a conclusion, with a second draft due to be reviewed next month in San Diego. "Gigabit Ethernet will be inexpensive enough at the speed it's running that it'll take off," Wilbur continued. "We're throwing cheap bandwidth at the problem."