Cabletron Plugs 'Adaptive' Architecture

LAS VEGAS (05/12/2000) - Cabletron Systems Inc.'s Enterasys Networks subsidiary plans to differentiate itself from enterprise rivals by marketing its switches and routers as "adaptive infrastructure" products that can quickly change to accommodate different network applications.

Enterasys' future routers and switches will have a programmable control plane that can perform statistical analysis of application traffic or traffic groups and rapidly apply quality-of-service (QoS) policies, says Chief Technology Officer John Roese. This is in contrast to "application aware" switches that perform packet-by-packet pattern matching of applications but cannot quickly adapt to changing applications or traffic patterns, Roese says.

Network World caught up with Roese at the NetWorld+Interop 2000 show this week.

Some Enterasys products, such as the SmartSwitch 2000 and 6000, Matrix E7 switch and SmartSwitch Router, currently perform a subset of this adaptive function via Layer 4 traffic classification. But future Enterasys products will have a rules-based control plane that contains traffic classification parameters for applications, and a policy information base for attaching QoS instructions based on application class.

The switches and routers will recognize applications belonging to a specific business function or operation, rather than classifying traffic based on the specific application, Roese says. The control plane will be programmable so that classification rules and QoS policies can be easily changed with the changing nature of network applications, he says.

This fall, for example, Enterasys will unveil software that performs "dynamic socket inheritance" - a feature that applies QoS policies to an application protocol's control plane and ties it to other flows in that application class.

This is in contrast to hard-coded Application Specific Integrated Circuit based switches that require a hardware upgrade if applications change, he says.

"Don't assume anything about my network, because it's going to change," Roese says, echoing the sentiment of Enterasys customers.

Also, the next generation of Enterasys' new Matrix E7 switch will have a "slow path" packet inspection capability that scrutinizes tens of millions of packets per second, Roese says. This is designed to alleviate the latency inherent in the packet inspection function of routers and routing switches.

Enterasys is working with some leading network applications developers, such as Citrix Systems, SAP and Siemens for packet telephony, to benchmark and certify its switches and routers for those applications. Enterasys products may carry a Citrix or SAP logo in the future to signify that certification, company officials say.

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