Gigabit Ethernet market beginning to heat up

The mad dash to develop Gigabit Ethernet products could mean users will have enough backbone network capacity to handle the deployment of switched and Fast Ethernet to workgroups possibly by year's end.

The mad dash to develop Gigabit Ethernet products could mean users will have enough backbone network capacity to handle the deployment of switched and Fast Ethernet to workgroups possibly by year's end.

Cisco Systems has become the latest -- and one of the largest -- internetworking vendors to commit to the emerging technology. It has done so this month by announcing plans to acquire Gigabit Ethernet pioneer Granite Networks for US$220 million.

Gigabit Ethernet enables the original 10Mbits/s Ethernet technology to run at 1Gbit/s tweaking its components to accommodate far higher speeds. Cabletron Systems and a slew of start-ups have pledged Gigabit Ethernet products, some by the end of the year.

From an engineering standpoint, Gigabit Ethernet would make sense in backbone networks. That's because users run switched 10Mbit/s to desktops and 100Mbit/s Fast Ethernet to servers and between switches. So they need something faster than Fast Ethernet for their backbone networks, where traffic flows are the heaviest.

Gigabit Ethernet will allow businesses to deliver bandwidth-demanding graphics-based applications, imaging and videoconferencing to employees. All are especially attractive to manufacturing, health care and insurance firms. That means no painful upgrades, no retraining of information systems staff and no preproduction technology pilots, all of which drain IS resources and budgets. But users who need the ability to support multiple types of traffic will need Asynchronous Transfer Mode.

Users can expect to see the first fruits of Gigabit Ethernet development efforts at Networld/Interop '96 in Atlanta later this month. Cabletron and many lesser-known firms will showcase prototype wares there. Analysts say that, at first glance, it appears Cisco overpaid for Granite, which has yet to ship a product. Yet they agree the acquisition is a sound investment. "What they're paying for is the ASICs, which are extremely difficult, time-consuming and cost a ton of money to develop," says Eric Hindin, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston.

ASICs, or application specific integrated circuits, are the brains of switches. "Cisco will be able to easily and quickly take the Granite ASICs and implement them in their switches and other products. So what they bought was time-to-market." Hindin says if ASICs were easy to develop, Fast Ethernet products would have hit the market much sooner than they did and would probably cost far less.

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