Product Briefing: Gigabit Ethernet Switches

Don't look now, but with falling prices, Gigabit Ethernet doesn't seem so extravagant, even to the desktop. An overview of what you need to know before switching from Fast Ethernet to 1 Gigabit -- and advice about whether to wait for 10 Gigabit speeds.
Don't look now, but Ethernet is about to go anywhere it pleases. If you haven't invested in Gigabit Ethernet, you will shortly -- or, at the very least, you'll be be preparing your network infrastructure for the technology.

Predictions were that vendors would cut Gigabit prices this year, and they have. Network Interface Cards (NICs) are priced under $300, with some as low as $200. Switch prices per port range from $400 to as low as $250, depending upon which supplier you talk to. That's quite a drop, considering the price last year averaged around $700 per port.

Though still twice as expensive as Fast Ethernet's $125 per port price tag, Gigabit technology -- which is 10 times as fast, sending data at 1,000 megabits (or 1 gigabit) per second rather than 100 megabits -- is suddenly more attractive for the average local area network (LAN).

And with prices falling, Gigabit Ethernet doesn't seem so extravagant, even for the desktop. In the past year 3Com, Cisco, Alcatel, Asante, and Netgear have joined the Gigabit-over-copper market by producing workgroup class switches (see our product line-up below). Combine Gigabit speed and price with the proliferation of bandwidth-sucking applications, and Gigabit Ethernet looks better all the time.

It's looking so good, in fact, that International Data Corporation predicts Gigabit Ethernet sales will more than double each year over the next three years. That's when Gigabit will overtake its slower sibling, Fast Ethernet, as the dominant LAN switching technology.

As with most information technologies, as widespread adoption of 1Gigabit Ethernet takes off, a more powerful successor, 10 Gigabit Ethernet, is waiting in the wings. Being able to ship10 Gb of data in fewer than 8 seconds should be enough to make any network manager swoon. While such a standard won't be set until 2002, pre-standard products have already been announced and previewed (though availability remains six months to a year away).

But don't work 10Gb products into your 2002 budgets just yet. Pre-standard products are aimed at the largest corporations and metro- or wide-area network service providers, and they come with a price tag to match.

So far the only vendor to venture a guess at pricing is Foundry Networks, which is releasing a single port blade for around $45,000. Other vendors think that will be about average for 10Gb, at least for the time being, which is probably too rich for the vast majority of data centers to be early adopters. Even so, analysts are predicting revenue for 10 Gigabit Ethernet to top $500 million next year and reach $2 billion by 2004.

Beyond the initial target market, though, other demands and newer technologies are expected to drive the 10Gb market into the realm of mid-size businesses in the not-so-distant future. Among the technologies driving the market: the proliferation of Gigabit-over-copper to the desktop; LAN-on-motherboard network interfaces; and LAN convergence technologies like storage area networks and iSCSI (Small Computer Systems Interface over IP).

Network Gigabit Switches

Company: 3Com
Product: Switch 4007 / 4005 Gigabit Switch Modules
Price Range: $1,195 to $1,995 1-port Layer 3 modules; 
             $2,995 to $12,995 Multilayer / multiport modules
Description: Multilayer and Layer 3 modules; 1, 4 and 9 port 
             modules  
http://www.3Com.com

Company: Alcatel
Product: Omnicore Enterprise Routing Switches
Features: 20-port and up models; SNMP with MIB support; 
          RMON; port mirroring
http://www4.alcatel.com/products/

Company: Asante
Product: FriendlyNET GX4 Series Switches
Price: $1,149 4 Port; $1,999  7 Port
Features: Gigabit over Copper; 2 to 7 port models 
http://www.asante.com/product/gigcopper/index.html

Product: FriendlyNET 7000 Switches
Features: Gigabit over fiber: 1000BaseSX
http://www.asante.com/product/gigfiber/index.html

Product: Intracore Series
Features: Enterprise switches
http://www.asante.com/product/enterprise/index.html

Company: Avaya 
Product: Cajun Series Switches
Features: workgroup, LAN, backbone and multifunction models
http://www1.avaya.com/enterprise/who/docs/product12.html

Company: Cisco
Product: Catalyst 3550-12T; 2950T-24 
Approximate Price: $9,995; $1,495
Features: Gigabit over copper; 3550-12T multiplayer; 
          2950T-24  24 10/100 ports, 
          2 fixed 10/100/1000BaseT uplink ports. 
http://www.cisco.com

Company: Extreme Networks
Product: Summit24; Summit 48
Description: Desktop switches
http://www.extremenetworks.com/products/desktop.asp

Product: Summit1; Summit4; Summit/5
Description: data center/enterprise; gigabit only 
             and gigabit plus 10/100Mbps models
http://www.extremenetworks.com/products/datacenter.asp

Product: Black Diamond Series
Description: Core switches
http://www.extremenetworks.com/products/core.asp

Company: Hewlett-Packard Company
Product: Procurve 8000M/4000M/1600M
Description: Desktop/wiring closet switches; RMON 

Product: Procurve 9308M/9304M Routing Switches
Description: Backbone; 1/100/1000 managed modular switch; 
             32 to 64 Gb ports
http://www.hp.com/rnd/products/routing_switches/index.htm

Company: Intel Corporation
Product: NetStructure 470T/F Switch; 480T Routing Switch
Description: 470T/F Layer 2, 8-port 1000BASE-SX or 6-port 
             100/1000T; 480T multiplayer 12-port 100/1000T.
http://www.intel.com/network/connectivity/solutions/gigabit.htm

Company: NetGear
Product: FS Series; GS Series
Description: fiber port and gigabit over copper port models 
http://www.netgear.com/products.asp

Other Gigabit Ethernet switch vendors include Lucent Technologies and Nortel.

Dayna Delmonico writes for CrossNodes, an internet.com site where this story first appeared.






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