High-Speed Token Ring Is on the Way

According to David Wilbanks, president of IP Metrics Software Inc. (Euless, Texas, www.ipmetrics.com), manufacturer of NIC Express network interface cards, the Ethernet market is approximately 10 times larger than the Token Ring market. But vendors are still building Token Ring products, and continuing to make them faster. In fact, the High-Speed Token Ring Alliance (HSTRA) announced the successful completion of two rounds of interoperability testing of High-Speed Token Ring products.

Testing was conducted at the University of New Hampshire Interoperability Lab (UNH, www.iol.unh.edu), a neutral, consortium-based testing center that verifies the interoperability and conformance of computer communications products across multiple technologies. Participants in the first round of testing included three of the biggest Token Ring vendors: IBM Corp., Madge Networks (Eatontown, N.J., www.madge.com) and Olicom Inc. (Richardson, Texas, www.olicom.com).

The testing validates the stability of the draft IEEE 802.5 for High-Speed Token Ring products. "The High-Speed Token Ring interoperability testing conducted at UNH was a vital part of our standardization process, providing the necessary testing verification before the issuance of the standard," says Robert Love, chairman of the IEEE 802.5 committee.

The results help solidify vendor plans for product availability in the third quarter of 1998. Products tested for compatibility and adherence to the final standard include High-Speed Token Ring adapters and switches. "The testing helps to ensure both the accuracy and completeness of the standard, and the interoperability of multiple vendor offerings built to that standard," says Love.

With the technical testing work completed, the IEEE 802.5 Token Ring working group is polishing the 100-Mbps High-Speed Token Ring standard. The IEEE 802.5 standard is for dedicated High-Speed Token Ring that scales from 100Mbps to at least 1 GB.

In the near future, the working group is expected to sponsor an industrywide review of the standard. As the standard approaches acceptance, more and more vendors are planning to release products based on the standard in the third quarter of this year. "This is a major milestone in our collective drive to provide Token Ring customers with an evolutionary and strategic migration path to 100-Mbps networking," says IBM’s David Olechovsky, HSTRA chairman.

Even though a Gigabit Ethernet standard was ratified recently by the IEEE, vendors believe that there is still a need for High-Speed Token Ring. "Millions of network environments still rely on Token Ring technology," says IP Metrics’ Wilbanks. For that reason, Wilbanks promises that NIC Express, which is currently available in all Ethernet varieties, will be available with High-Speed Token Ring technology in the future.

For some companies that use Token Ring, switching the entire operation over to Ethernet is not a reality. "The recent advances in Token Ring technology have narrowed the gap between Ethernet and Token Ring," says Wilbanks.