N+I: Enterprise LANs to march forward

Visitors to the NetWorld+Interop show floor, which opened here yesterday, will see major network vendors take steps toward smarter, faster enterprise LANs (local area networks).

Cisco Systems and Cabletron Systems will take the wraps off switch modules that offer more sophisticated traffic control, and Lucent Technologies will give enterprises what it calls the first step toward 10Gbps Ethernet.

Although enterprises are only now deploying Gigabit Ethernet and standards are still coming together for high-level performance controls, enterprises are bracing for a flood of demands on their networks in the next few years.

Both Cabletron and Cisco will let users extend application and routing intelligence further across their LANs, with the aim of giving important applications and users the performance they require. No matter how much high-speed gear IT departments buy, their networks can fall short when jobs such as enterprise resource planning need to get done, according to some observers.

Cisco will show off supervisor modules for its Catalyst 5000 series workgroup switches that will add IP, IPX, and IP multicast switching across subnets, as well as Layer 4 application awareness. Using Layer 4 port numbers to identify applications allows switches to give priority to some applications over others. Catalyst 5000s, equipped with modules, also will be able to route other protocols through software.

The modules, called the Catalyst Supervisor II G and III G modules will allow the workgroup switches to handle delay-sensitive traffic, such as packetised voice calls, all the way down to the workgroup level. Such capabilities have been introduced earlier in devices including the Catalyst 8500 and 6000 series switches.

Cabletron's booth will showcase its SmartNetworking quality-of-service initiative, which will leverage the company's Spectrum management platform along with hardware enhancements to ensure application performance across LANs.

Layer 4 firmware upgrades for its SmartSwitch 2000, 6000, and 9000 workgroup and backbone devices will allow users to prioritise applications, ensure delivery of voice and video, and put access-control lists on switch ports, according to the company.

But not all of the focus will be on policy-based networking, which today presents enterprises with a bewildering range of emerging implementations and precious few certainties about how different vendors' products will work. Some vendors will tout brute force to go along with the emerging intelligence.

Lucent plans to show off an experimental 10Gbps Ethernet multiplexer, which the company said will allow enterprises to implement 10-Gigabit Ethernet without a 10Gbps Ethernet standard. A standard is now under development by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers).

With the GigaChannel multiplexer, enterprises could multiplex as many as eight standard Gigabit Ethernet streams on to a single fibre link across the core of the LAN. IBM will weigh in to the performance war with a workgroup switch it touts as the fastest in its class. The 8275 Fast Ethernet Workgroup Switch Model 416 can forward 9.5 million packets per second, according to the company. The 16-port switch can be equipped with Gigabit Ethernet and fiber-based Fast Ethernet modules. Autolearning capability allows it to off-load traffic from routers.

Cabletron will also roll out faster switching modules, with speeds as fast as 35 million packets per second, to refresh its SmartSwitch 9000.

Cabletron's SmartSwitch firmware upgrades are available now, free to customers with a LANCare support agreement. The SmartSwitch 9000 modules will ship within 90 days, with pricing to be announced then. The Cisco Catalyst 5000 supervisor modules are set to ship in June, priced at $US8995 and $13,995.

IBM will ship the 8275 switch on June 18, priced starting at $145 per port. Lucent would not give a ship date or price for the GigaChannel Ethernet multiplexer.

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