IBM Corp. is ready to unleash a line of high-speed Ethernet switches that will boast quality-of-service (QoS) capabilities typically found only in ATM gear.
Big Blue is also adding directory-based policy management technology to its router and switch lines, making it easier for companies to prioritize access to net resources.
The moves are designed to make IBM a more significant player in the Ethernet market. Until now, IBM has focused largely on Token-Ring and ATM switching technologies.
"We expect to grow our Ethernet business at three times the industry rate this year," said Rob Zimmer, director of strategy for IBM's Networking Hardware Division at the recent ComNet/DC '99 conference in Washington, D.C. "We feel that only Lucent has anywhere near the capability to offer end-to-end products and policy control that we will have."
IBM executives said the company over the next 10 months will unleash a family of Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet campus and backbone switches built with the firm's Prizma ATM chip and other IBM Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) technology. The moves will let users build big high-speed Ethernet backbones with ATM QoS capabilities.
Prizma, developed in IBM's Zurich Research Lab, is a 28G-bit-per-second ATM chip at the heart of the company's ATM switches. IBM would not say how many boxes will make up the new family.
In addition, IBM will add policy-based management features to the software running on all of its major switch products -- including the 2212 router, 827X switch/router families and 8265 ATM switch.
To help enable policy-based management, IBM will add Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) support across its line of net gear. This will let IBM switches access user profiles and implement QoS policies from any LDAP directory in an enterprise network.
With these initiatives, IBM joins Cisco, 3Com and other communications bigwigs that offer policy management for their routers and switches. To differentiate its products from those of competitors, IBM plans to use the high-throughput capacity of its Prizma chip in combination with QoS features, such as guaranteed bandwidth, best-effort delivery and priority queuing.
IBM certainly has a lot to prove in the Ethernet arena, but some analysts were cautiously optimistic about the company's chances.
The policy management initiative will let IBM sell to its installed base of Token-Ring users migrating to Ethernet, and also could be attractive to non-IBM customers, says Sam Alunni, president of Sterling Research, a consultancy in Sterling, Mass.
IBM believes it can make highly competitive Ethernet products, but in the past, the company didn't feel the need to offer an alternative to its Token-Ring line.
IBM has already begun to implement some of its Ethernet/ATM strategy. The firm recently announced the 8274 Nways LAN RouteSwitch -- a Gigabit Ethernet switch that will be available as a blade inside IBM's 8265 ATM switch. This combination will let users link Gigabit Ethernet LANs to high-speed ATM backbones.
IBM has also promised to fill out its Ethernet switching family. In that vein, the company in two weeks will announce two mid-size Ethernet switches that will fit between the high-end 8274 and low-end 8275 desktop Ethernet switches.