High Speed: Notworking

IS managers today, are faced with the
unenviable task of choosing a ‘high-speed’ networking technology which can actually ‘slow
down’ the network if not chosen with care. High-speed networking, in the real sense, is
all about building a network that reduces the bottlenecks at the backbone level and makes
the network look more like a superhighway that allows smooth flow of traffic into the
bylanes, without any traffic jams in between that can make your latest 200 MHz desktop
machine took like a 16 MHz machine that you junked a few years ago.

The expansion of high-speed networking
technologies from Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, and Ethernet Hunt Groups,
plus ATM and multimedia has caught much of the media and customer attention. The speed of
technology evolution has dramatically increased the number of offerings seen from
different networking vendors today. There is no limit to the vendor claims on speeds of
the backplane of switches ranging from as low as 3 Gbps to 75 Gbps, very few of them make
an attempt to educate the IS manager what these scary numbers mean to him. Yet, the need
for speed is intense as more and more bandwidth-hungry applications hog up the network
bandwidth and so is the speed of the processors on your desktop which seems to be doubling
by the year. Added to this, we have the frightening truth about every aspect of life
becoming dependent on the Internet. One of the studies recently conducted revealed that
the usage of the network from around 20 percent, today, is all set to increase to 80
percent by the year 2000-it is left to your imagination what the network needs to look
like five years from now. Research by reputed analysts has also revealed that the 80/20
trend has actually reversed. Networks used to have 80 percent of the traffic limited
within the workgroups and only 20 percent of the traffic having to reach up to the
backbone or the server, this trends seem to have reversed to only 20 percent of the
traffic being local and 80 percent of the traffic having to reach up to the backbone
level.

In this world of information technology
computing technologies, processor technologies, memory, storage et al come and go by the
day. Interestingly, the speed of technology retirement in networking, which is growing and
developing rapidly, is close to zero. Ethernet, which was created by a consortium of
Digital, Intel, and Xerox in 1978, is used in 86 percent of the market. Ethernet usage is
still expanding, and no major authority is suggesting its retirement. The RS232 serial
line standard, another major standard, is over 25-year-old and still dominates the
connection used for modems and many other computer options. There are some standards such
as Token Ring, which are gaining fewer new customers, but these tend to be an exception.

Many articles suggest that ATM and Gigabit
Ethernet are replacing FDDI. Market surveys show how the migration to new technologies is
slow, with 56 percent of large backbone still being FDDI-based. Migrations from FDDI are
being planned to ATM rather than the hot topic of Gigabit Ethernet, which is not seen as
complete and proven enough to risk at the heart of the network. ATM is the fastest of all
the high-speed networking technologies available today-a viable and popular option for
most backbones today. There is no theoretical limitation in the speed which ATM can scale
up to. ATM products are available at speeds as low as 25 Mbps (though not popular) to 155
Mbps (the most widely used) and are expected to scale up to 10 Gbps for WAN access. Apart
from raw speed ATM has its own advantages, it facilitates mixing of different types of
traffic (voice, video, and data) which makes ATM the best choice if you plan to integrate
voice, video, and data. Research by various sources have revealed that over 40 percent of
the network managers plan to implement ATM at the backbones by the year 2000 which is in
line with forested growth for ATM products. Some sources have also revealed that aircraft
manufacturers like Boeing plan to implement an ATM socket to every seat in the plane by
the turn of the century.

Implementing an ATM network could be
sometimes painful to network managers who have been fanatically loyal to Ethernet
technology. Migration to ATM from Ethernet involves shifting from a Frame type of data
format to a cell type format. Which means that a lot needs to change in the way you build
and run applications on an ATM network if one needs to realize the advantages of having
migrated to a ‘high-speed atm network’. This is where the newest technology Gigabit
Ethernet could play a role in providing ease of use, familiarity, and raw speed of 100
Mbps.

There are many networking players who have
already started shipping products that offer Gigabit Ethernet ports. Adapter cards
supporting 10/100/1000 Mbps speed have started showing up in advertisements, similarly
switches supporting 10/100/1000 Mbps speeds are getting shipped by the Big 4 networking
vendors like Cisco, Cabletron, 3Com, and Bay. In the long term, there is little doubt that
Gigabit Ethernet will have a lot to offer but the question is whether it makes sense to
invest today. So it would probably be wise for network managers to choose either ATM as
the backbone or a Switched Fast Ethernet if they feel they don’t need to cross the 100
Mbps barrier. What looks obvious is a definite need for a 1000 Mbps kind of a backbone by
the year 2000, which only Gigabit Ethernet technology has a lot to offer in terms of
familiarity, ease of use, and probably cost too.

But as in every case just as the saying
goes: "It is people who drive technology and technology does not drive people."
So it is you who need to make the choice with care after a thorough understanding of your
applications running on the network, of FDDI, Ethernet, Fast Ethernet or Gigabit Ethernet
until may be Terabit Ethernet moves in to add to a network manager’s worries of which
technology is the right choice.

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