Energy lab boosts bandwidth

A Gigabit Ethernet connection links two Cisco 7513 routers to a Cisco Catalyst 5500 LAN
switch at the heart of the network, which serves about 50 buildings. Eventually, 10
backbone routers will be upgraded to gigabit/sec rates.

The Berkeley, Calif., lab is doing away with shared Ethernet connectivity to desktops
PCs in favor of switched LAN links for about 9,500 devices.

Forty percent of the links are to PCs, 30 percent to Macintoshes, 25 percent to Unix
workstations and the rest to peripherals such as printers.

"We are 60 percent through conversion and will finish in the next 18 months,"
Fink said.

In the second phase of Gigabit Ethernet deployment, gigabit rates will move farther out
onto the network to the LAN switches on the other side of the routers.

Although the lab has a facility that evaluates Gigabit Ethernet products from multiple
vendors, Fink said, Cisco’s Gigabit Ethernet products are in use on the production
network, not in a controlled environment.

"For us, the issue was not just using someone’s Gigabit Ethernet box,"
Fink said. "The issue was how Cisco would fold Gigabit Ethernet into older equipment
such as the Catalyst 5500 switches and 7500 routers. It’s harder to put Gigabit
Ethernet into older devices than to bring it out in new devices."

Jim Massa, director of federal operations for the San Jose, Calif., company, said the
lab "has an environment in which they really stress and test Gigabit Ethernet. They
have a staff that can see if the product is ready for full deployment."

The lab plans to add Cisco’s new, high-end 8500 backbone LAN router, sometimes
called a Layer 3 switch.

Because it does both routing and switching in hardware, it processes packets much
faster than previous routers.

But the 8500 could pose a dilemma for the lab. Unlike the 7500 multiprotocol router
that handles AppleTalk and Digital Equipment Corp. DECnet, which has a few users at the
lab, the 8500 supports only IP and Novell IPX.

"We could keep the 7500 in place for [AppleTalk and DECnet users], although we
don’t want to," Fink said. As the network gains capacity, he predicted that
bandwidth demand will explode. "In the next two years, you’ll see 10-gigabit/sec
standardization. This will happen before the end of 1999," Fink said.

Just a year ago, he said, a $2,000 Pentium PC running Microsoft Windows NT could do
drag-and-drop networking—opening a folder on one machine and dropping it into a
folder on another—at about 200 Mbps. Now Intel Corp. has done it at about 550 Mbps.

Sam Masud writes about communications and information technology from Potomac, Md.

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