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Ethernet extension wins support

Both Microsoft and Compaq Computer endorse an extension to the standard Ethernet networking protocol floated by start-up Alteon Networks.

An extension to the standard Ethernet networking protocol floated by start-up Alteon Networks recently got a boost when both Microsoft and Compaq Computer endorsed the format for delivering data to computers.

Called Jumbo Frames, the technology essentially provides users with a large boost in the packet size for Ethernet, the dominant networking technology for connecting PCs and servers together on a local network. This, in turn, makes it easier for computers to handle large chunks of data, essentially squeezing more performance out of server systems.

The endorsement from both Compaq and Digital could promote the extension within the industry. Compaq has pledged to OEM a gigabit-speed Alteon networking card for server systems and Microsoft will work with the start-up to build a set of software drivers that support Jumbo Frames within the company's Windows NT operating systems.

Classic Ethernet technology has used a standard 1,500-byte frame size even as it has boosted its transmission speeds from 10 mbps to 100 mbps. Now, with gigabit-speed Ethernet hitting the market, Alteon executives believe a larger frame size--in this case, 9,000 bytes--is necessary, particularly in data-intensive operations such as network backup, database mirroring, or downloading Web pages.

Alteon has created a niche for itself among a slew of Gigabit Ethernet start-ups by focusing on ways to speed access to data housed on server systems. Selina Lo, vice president of product management at the company, said the concept of Jumbo Frames is nothing new, but is increasingly necessary for an industry that constantly ups its bandwidth.

Having Compaq and Microsoft on board doesn't hurt either. "I think the endorsement is so significant that it's a watershed for the industry's acceptance of Jumbo Frames," Lo said.

"Alteon understands the problem," added Peter Christy, principal analyst with the research arm of Collaborative Marketing.

Christy said the extension would not necessarily result in a standards problem since application of the technology will largely be restricted to networks or clusters of servers that will all be optimized for Jumbo Frames.

Compaq will offer the card with certain Alpha-based server models, starting next month. The Alteon adapters will also be used to inter-connect VAX clusters from Digital Equipment using software that will be released in the second half of this year.