Industry braces for smarter, faster LANs

Visitors to the Networld+Interop show saw major network vendors take steps toward smarter, faster enterprise LANs.

Cisco Systems and Cabletron Systems took the wraps off switch modules offering more sophisticated traffic control, and Lucent Technologies gave enterprises what it calls the first step toward 10Gbps Ethernet.

Although companies 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.

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 on jobs such as enterprise resource planning.

Cisco was set to 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.

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.

Cabletron's booth showcased 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 showed 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.

With the GigaChannel multiplexer, enterprises could multiplex as many as eight standard Gigabit Ethernet streams onto a single fibre link across the core of the LAN. IBM will weigh into 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.

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

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