Cisco unveils Gigabit Ethernet migration technology

Cisco Systems has unveiled proprietary technology for aggregating bandwidth among multiple Fast Ethernet links and migrating users to Gigabit Ethernet. Although Cisco is not expected to ship Gigabit Ethernet products until early 1998, after the IEEE 802.3z standard is defined, the new technology is expected to hurt start-ups in the propective Gigabit Ethernet market.

Cisco Systems has unveiled proprietary technology for aggregating bandwidth among multiple Fast Ethernet links and migrating users to Gigabit Ethernet.

Fast EtherChannel is an outgrowth of the switched Ethernet bandwidth aggregation technology Cisco inherited from Kalpana Inc. when it acquired the company in 1995. The technology combines parallel, full-duplex 100Mbit/s links into a high-speed trunk of up to 800Mbit/s between switches, routers and servers.

Fast EtherChannel software is intended to provide users with a stepping stone to Gigabit Ethernet. Cisco is not expected to ship Gigabit Ethernet products until early 1998, after the IEEE 802.3z Gigabit Ethernet standard is defined.

Cisco will provide Fast EtherChannel options for its Catalyst 5000 LAN switches and 7500 routers in the second half of this year.

Fast EtherChannel software will provide load sharing and fault tolerance across aggregated links, says Jayshree Ullal, vice president of Cisco's Workgroup business unit. Cisco has also developed the Port Aggregation Protocol, which Ullal said automates creation and configuration of Fast EtherChannel links.

"The part I really like about it is the scalability in terms of being able to go from 100M-bps right on up in increments of two [100M-bps links]," says Lynn DeNoia, director of consulting services at Strategic Networks Consulting Inc. "It's a great migration path while people wait for Gigabit Ethernet to get standardised."

Fast EtherChannel's appeal will be limited to Cisco switch and router customers, extensive as that base may be, DeNoia adds.

Other analysts say the technology's introduction could hurt sales of products from some of the many Gigabit Ethernet start-ups, as well as from Cisco's ATM business unit.

"Cisco customers who were maybe thinking of [getting a Gigabit Ethernet] switch from one of the start-ups will probably reconsider," says John Armstrong, principal analyst at Dataquest. "On the ATM side, the LightStream people at Cisco must be ripping their hair out because this is going to ding ATM as well."

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