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Big guns upgrade network gear

The summer doldrums are over. HP, Intel, and Cabletron all introduce new features and enhancements to their lines of networking equipment and accompanying software.

Summer vacation for networking companies is over.

Hewlett-Packard (HWP), Intel (INTC), and Cabletron Systems (CS) all introduced new features and enhancements to their lines of networking equipment and accompanying software today.

The new gear signals that companies are looking to round out their product lines for customers before the expected onslaught of Gigabit Ethernet technology starts to roll out in volume next year.

HP continued to augment its 100-mbps Ethernet offerings by adding new unmanaged and managed 12-port hubs for small organizations that want to implement a network and switch modules to extend the distance for Ethernet technology to up to two kilometers. The new hub series can be stacked on top of one another in racks, offering expansion capabilities for small businesses.

The company also announced accompanying AdvanceStack Assistant software that will allow the reseller community to analyze the performance of customer networks and provide solutions to clients. The unmanaged HP hub is priced at $1,149, with a managed version priced at $2,299. Switch modules start at $499.

HP officials noted that only one managed hub is necessary in a stack of five for the entire rack of hubs. The new boxes fill out the company's line but won't make HP an early entry into the gigabit-speed Ethernet sweepstakes, according to Erik Rose, product marketing engineer for HP.

"The point our customers want products is when they are fully interoperable," he said, adding that the company expects to debut Gigabit Ethernet gear next year, after a standard is finalized within the Internet Engineering Task Force.

As reported last week by CNET's NEWS.COM, Cabletron will announce a new series of hardware to migrate customers from hub-based networks to switching. The new gear is based on the company's recently announced 2000 and 6000 SmartSwitch platforms, which are intended to vie with the likes of Cisco Systems' Catalyst 5000 line.

Two new modules for the 6000 allow Fast Ethernet switching and shared hub access to coexist in one box, facilitating network migrations as a company grows. New 2100 and 2110 models connect Fast Ethernet and Ethernet users, and take advantage of a MicroLAN feature that allows an administrator to segment groups of users within one box, offering support for multiple LANs (local area networks) in one switch.

The 2000 and 6000 platforms are intended to take over for older MMAC systems that brought thousands of customers to Cabletron's doorstep. Production of the recently announced gear, which was one of the causes of the company's lower-than-expected earning last quarter, has is in full gear, according to Eric Blonda, program manager for LAN switching at Cabletron.

The new standalone 2000 gear starts at $5,495 while the 6000 additions start at $5,995. The Ethernet module for the 6000 is available immediately; the Fast Ethernet module will roll out within 90 days. The 2100 is available now while the 2110 will be available within 90 days.

Intel announced new software features for its Express routers that support encryption and tunneling capabilities. Tunneling allows network managers to implement VPNs (virtual private networks) to carry local traffic across the public network. Essentially, this technology allows multiple LANs at spread out sites to connect securely using the Internet as if they were all local.

The feature is included in version 2.3 of Intel's routing software and will be available by the end of September. The VPN capabilities allow small organizations to implement wide area-like connections between sites without having to lease expensive dedicated lines. The software uses a 144-bit encryption key called Blowfish.

Routers with the new software will ship for $1,299 list price for the 9100, 9200, and 9300 models, and $5,999 for the 9400 model.