Gigabit Ethernet to Grow in 1999

According to a report from research house Infonetics Research Inc. (www.infonetics.com), 1999 may be the year of Gigabit Ethernet’s big breakthrough. In early 1997, some of the first switches to use a new technology called Gigabit Ethernet appeared. Throughout 1997 and 1998, several networking heavyweights including Cisco Systems Inc., Lucent Technologies Inc. (www.lucent.com) and Compaq Computer Corp., introduced Gigabit Ethernet-related products, but the technology didn’t take off.

Gigabit Ethernet is a high-speed, high-performance networking technology that carries data at 1 Gbps over a standard Ethernet framing format. In terms of performance, Gigabit Ethernet’s closest competitive technology is ATM, which offers a maximum theoretical bandwidth of 622 Mbps. But proponents argue that because Gigabit Ethernet uses a standard Ethernet framing format, the technology offers an inexpensive and smooth migration path over and against ATM for enterprise environments with existing Ethernet setups.

Despite its promise, adoption of Gigabit Ethernet was tepid. According to a poll conducted by BCI Research in February 1998, 89 percent of respondents reported that their companies did not use Gigabit Ethernet products in any capacity. Of that 89 percent, 57 percent indicated that they didn’t have plans to implement Gigabit Ethernet technology within their network infrastructures in the immediate future.

What a difference a year makes. According to a study by Infonetics Research, User Plans for High Performance LANs 1999@@SR, Gigabit Ethernet implementations are exceeding those of ATM in small-, medium- and large-sized organizations.

"The change in end-users views from last year’s study is quite dramatic; Gigabit Ethernet is on a steep ascent across all business size categories," notes Mike McConnell, director of enterprise management and LAN programs at Infonetics Research.

According to McConnell, 1999’s results are a distinct departure from 1998, a year in which ATM and Gigabit Ethernet had comparatively similar deployment numbers. McConnell maintains that 1999’s breakthrough numbers should continue throughout 2000, by which time Gigabit Ethernet should be far out in front of ATM as a high-performance backbone connection of choice.

"ATM and Gigabit Ethernet were neck and neck in 1998 in number of backbone connections, but by 2000 Gigabit Ethernet takes the lead with 8 percent of backbone port connections versus 1 percent for ATM," McConnell projects.

While McConnell notes that he doesn’t have any hard data concerning the number of Gigabit Ethernet switches or hubs shipped, Sam Alunni, president of research firm Sterling Research (www.sterlingresearch.com) agrees that adoption of the technology as the backbone connectivity solution of choice is definitely on the rise.

"If you look at it from the reflection point of how vendors are aggressively putting Gigabit Ethernet uplinks on 10/100-Mbps boxes, Gigabit Ethernet is a very, very successful technology," Alunni says, noting that the technology is serving primarily in a high-performance backbone capacity right now. "It’s a backbone technology primarily right now, and we’re not going to see it get down to the first level of networking for another three or four years."

High-profile vendor adoption of Gigabit Ethernet is on the rise. In late February, networking giant Cisco Systems introduced its Catalyst 4900 series of Gigabit Ethernet switches. Not to be outdone, networking and telecommunications leader Lucent Technologies unveiled in early March its Cajun Campus family of Gigabit Ethernet Switches. Both products are positioned as back-end Gigabit Ethernet switches that are able to handle high-performance business campus requirements.

According to Alunni, more vendors will follow Cisco’s and Lucent’s lead, lured by a lucrative marketplace for Gigabit Ethernet-based backbone solutions that is being driven by requirements for ever-greater bandwidth on enterprise networks. "Certainly as a backbone technology right now Gigabit Ethernet is a stellar technology, and because you’ve got shops giving people private Ethernet at 100 Mbps, they start slamming a lot of data up to the first level switches, driving the demand for bandwidth on the back-end."