Networking trends emerge for '99

Users saw plunging Gigabit Ethernet prices in 1998 -- along with broader protocol and WAN support for Layer 3 switches.

These trends, along with developments in policy networking, are expected to grab the technology spotlight this year. These technologies promise to reshape the way users build and manage corporate networks, as they provide more bandwidth and the ability to phase out routers and offer new tools to administer networks, analysts said.

"These things are important because users can never get enough bandwidth and control," said Craig Johnson, president of the Pita Group, a Portland, Oregon, consultancy. "And the great news for users is pricing for Gigabit and Layer 3 switches is coming down because of intensified competition."

On the Gigabit Ethernet front prices are expected to continue falling this year as competition swells among vendors such as Cisco Systems, Nortel Networks and Cabletron Systems and as a few start-ups jump into the fray. Work on a specification that will support 1Gbit/sec data transmissions over twisted-pair wire should draw even more attention to the technology.

Switches with built-in routing, also known as Layer 3 switches, are expected to catch on as router replacements once the boxes are equipped with WAN interfaces and support for multiple protocols -- two features backbone routers have long had.

"Once vendors support more protocols, acceptance of Layer 3 switching should increase dramatically," said Eric Pylko, global infrastructure coordinator at Eastman-Kodak in New York.

Policy networking -- the ability to set per-employee rules for network access and prioritise applications for bandwidth-constrained times -- is also expected to draw attention this year.

"[Policy networking] is important because it gives network administrators the tools they need to provide a specific quality of service when, where and to whom it's needed," said David Stone, IS manager at EideBailly LLP, an accounting firm in Fargo, North Dakota.

While Nortel Networks, Lucent Technologies and others have already licensed Novell's Novell Directory Services (NDS) for policy networking, Cisco is going with Microsoft's Active Directory, which is part of Windows 2000 (the next version of Windows NT, due to ship this year). Cisco has a deal with Novell, but hasn't licensed NDS.

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