Token ring users to face new setbacks

Token ring users confront an even more uncertain future as dwindling interest from developers is likely to sound the death knell for the once all-important industry standard committee meetings.

The 802.5 token ring committee, down to only 10 vendors has already indicated it will move to conduct its communications via e-mail.

But John Messenger, a US-based Madge Networks executive and member of the body, was critical of the move.

"802.5 is token ring," he said, adding regular face-to-face meetings are an important part "of the opinion-forming and technical convergence process".

"In my view, hibernation of 802.5 would have a damaging effect on the token-ring industry," Messenger added.

The token ring industry has been in decline since Ethernet has become the technology of choice for LANs and increasingly, WANs. The volume of token-ring ports shipped continues to decline, falling to an estimated 1.4 million ports in 1999 from 2.8 million ports in 1997.

Messenger told Computerworld, "some vendors who have token ring products, but are moving towards Ethernet, may see their own commercial interests as favouring the decline of token ring".

Ian Lisle, marketing manager at Madge Networks Australia, agreed the committee's planned move to electronic communication could have negative implications for the token ring industry, if customers perceive it as the end for the technology.

But "hibernation doesn't imply death", he claimed.

"Token ring is a fully functional technology in which the standards are already in place [to support priority and multiple frame types] ... and have been since the inception of token ring in the early 1980s.

"It can afford to go into hibernation."

However, Joel Martin, senior analyst at IDC Australia, claimed there was "not enough investment from the user side" to drive token ring R&D initiatives.

He said the pricing, speed and quality of service that IP delivers have meant "very little new business for token ring".

Donald Czubek, president of Gen2 Ventures, a consultancy in the US, added: "I don't see that there is anything more for the token ring committee to do.

"The bottom line is ... there's no new business or any need for more standards."

But Lisle said: "It is a mature standard that doesn't generate lots of activity, unlike the Ethernet standards body that must undergo major changes."

He said that IBM and Madge are still committed to token ring and customers will not be adversely affected if the 802.5 committee moves to electronic communication.

IBM did not return calls before press time.

The 802.5 token ring committee's move reflects the damage the industry has sustained since the evolution of Ethernet.

The committee has seen its membership drop to just 10 from a high of 120 a decade ago, and its chairman, Jim Carlo, recently asked any working groups with low attendance to consider going into hibernation -- meaning future business would be conducted via e-mail.

Following Carlo's suggestion, the 802.5 committee issued a statement last week saying that in order to "maintain and broaden" the pool of experts available to contribute to and review documentation, it would consider switching from face-to-face meetings to electronic communication.

There is an installed base of some 30.5 million token-ring hub ports and an additional 1.7 million token ring switch ports, according to a recent survey by the Dell'Oro Group, a US-based consultancy.

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