'99 may be Giga Ethernet's year

In the six months since Gigabit Ethernet became a standard, plummeting switch prices and widespread user need for more bandwidth have combined to make 1999 look like a banner year for the technology.

Many companies already are using the 1G-bit-per-second technology -- which provides far more bandwidth than 100M bps. Fibre Distributed Data Interface (FDDI) and Fast Ethernet -- to replace congested backbone networks and provide wider pipes to high-end servers.

Others are following because per-port pricing for Gigabit Ethernet switches has plunged from about $US2,500 to less than $1,500 in some cases. Consultants said they expect the cuts to continue as price competition intensifies.

"I expect the price per Gigabit Ethernet port to fall to the $700-to-$750 vicinity by the end of the year," said Craig Johnson, president of Pita Group consultancy. "As a result, the technology will come into its own in 1999."

That's good news for users who are looking for higher-speed links to servers.

"Today, a Gigabit Ethernet server [adapter card] costs around $1,000, but that will drop to around $800 this year," said Rich Seifert, president of Networks and Communications Consulting. "Gigabit Ethernet is popular for the same reason Ethernet was when it first came out. It's cheap bandwidth, and everyone supports it."

Researchers agreed, citing Gigabit Ethernet port shipments that started to climb quickly at the end of last year.

Although only 35,000 ports shipped in the second quarter of 1998, 164,000 -- almost five times as many -- will ship in the first quarter of this year, according to Dell'Oro Group, research firm.

"Pricing and product dependability are now where it starts to make sense to use Gigabit Ethernet," said Virgil Palmer, director of networks and telecommunications at Air Products & Chemicals. "We're starting to adopt a Gigabit Ethernet strategy."

The company soon will install Gigabit Ethernet switches in front of its server farm to boost bandwidth to individual servers, he said. Today, servers at Air Products & Chemicals are linked using FDDI.

Pricing and the need for more bandwidth to handle capacity-intensive enterprise resource planning (ERP) and video training applications drove Mike Grech to order a Gigabit Ethernet backbone network.

"Our FDDI network only gave us 100M [bit/sec.], and we needed more speed," said Grech, LAN administrator at Martinez Refinery. "We looked to the future, and Gigabit Ethernet is where we see it going."

Although Gigabit Ethernet will provide a throughput boost compared with 100M-bps technologies such as FDDI and Fast Ethernet, experts warn that users won't see 10 times the performance.

"What you get depends on the applications you're running, your servers and other attached internetworking devices, as they may not be able to take advantage of the gigabit speed," Seifert said.

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