Big Blue Bolsters Front-End Processor

IBM Corp. is fighting to keep its 3746 front-end processor as the IP-SNA gateway of choice for mainframe users.

Sources say IBM's Networking Hard-ware Division later this month will an-nounce a software and network interface card upgrade for the 3746 that can support more IP and SNA Token Ring users. IBM declined to comment on the announcement.

IBM will nearly quadruple the number of simultaneous tn3270e sessions the 3746 can handle, from 4,000 to 15,000. Tn3270e technology lets 3270 users access SNA applications on the mainframe over TCP/IP nets.

With increased tn3270e support, Big Blue hopes to keep up with Cisco's mainframe channel-attached router. Cisco's 75XX router running a Channel Interface Processor supports up to 16,000 tn3270e sessions simultaneously, Cisco claims.

IBM and Cisco are trying to address user demand for products that more easily merge large SNA networks with TCP/IP backbones. International Data Corp. says tn3270 shipments will grow from about 26 million today to over 31 million by 2000. IBM has 3746s installed at an estimated 40,000+ sites.

For traditional SNA Token Ring users, the 3746's Type 3 adapter will be upgraded to support 3,000 physical units, up from the current 2,000. A physical unit is typically a workstation or router.

The software upgrade will also permit load balancing and failover between token-ring ports on the 3746. By distributing the workload among the ports, the 3746 can prevent bottlenecks and increase throughput.

The session boosts are respectable and should appeal to mainframe shops, says Ian Blair, general systems administrator at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia: "If it can be done, that's great." Blair's network, which has a 15-year-old IBM mainframe running tn3270e sessions to about 20,000 students, sometimes slows under heavy demand. The increase in session support could remedy such a problem, he says.

Among other new enhancements expected for the 3746 will be a two-fold increase in capacity on its Enterprise Systems Connection (ESCON) card, sources say. ESCON is IBM's fiber backbone technology. The 3746's ESCON card will be able to communicate with up to 32 Logical Partitions (LPAR) on a mainframe. LPAR technology lets users divide mainframe processors and run them as individual units. The enhancement should appeal especially to network executives who want to strap multiple LPARs together in parallel sysplex, or a mainframe cluster.

Sources expect the 3746 upgrades to be available in the third quarter.

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