RAS Solutions Broaden IBM Networking Horizons

As the number of Americans working from home and other distributed locations continues to grow, RAS solutions are assuming a more important role in enterprise IT organizations. Early this year, IBM unveiled two models in its line of IBM 2212 Access Utility solutions, which Big Blue hopes will prove attractive as a means to provide robust RAS connectivity for small- and medium-sized IT organizations.

The two 2212 Access Utility models – 10F and 10H – feature an additional adapter slot and are positioned as customized solutions for remote office locations. “These models are very scalable and offer a lot of rich functions, such as IP and multiprotocol routing, integrated into [the form-factor of] a single footprint,” says Jane Munn, program director of Ethernet and access solutions with IBM’s networking hardware division (Research Triangle Park, N.C., www.networking.ibm.com). “And the only difference between the low end and the high end solutions are the extra adapter slot which gives you the ability to put more capabilities into the same box.”

Both the 10F and 10H Access Utility models feature Thin Server support that can facilitate remote access for IBM network stations. RAS bandwidth is usually constrained at best, and the network station specification – which typically requires a premium of network bandwidth – would seem to preclude its use in RAS implementations.

“One of the capabilities we’ve implemented is Thin Server, which plays very well into the AS/400 marketplace where you might find a lot of network computers,” Munn explains. “With Thin Server we can actually cache boot images and run time files for the AS/400 and other computers locally, so it doesn’t have to go over the wire.” According to Munn, the Thin Server implementation in the new Access Utility models results in “much better response times for these network computers.”

The 2212 Access Utility models also offer advanced support for multiprotocol virtual private networks (VPN). Both the model 10F and model 10H Access Utility products boast VPN capabilities, based upon two distinct VPN encryption technologies, which facilitate secure access to corporate data and Internet backbones from remote locations. The 2212 Access Utility solutions leverage both the IPSec and L2TP encryption standards, which means they can provide support for not only IP tunneling over TCP/IP, but –- with the use of L2TP –- tunneling support for nearly any type of protocol.

“The difference between the two different tunneling standards is that L2TP was designed and built for [tunneling] any protocol but doesn’t enjoy [the level of standardization] that IPSec has,” Munn says. “So we combined the two, and now we can provide encrypted tunnels for almost any protocol.”

IBM also incorporated support for voice and data integration into the 2212 Access Utility models. In this regard, Munn contends, customers can reduce their overall networking costs by directly connecting PBXs, key systems, telephone sets or fax machines to the Access Utility models and leveraging their built-in level of voice/data integration technology.

The Access Utility models represent a further extension of IBM’s efforts to expand its networking expertise into new markets, according to Sam Alunni, president of Sterling Research Group Inc. (Saint Petersburg, Fla.; www.srgtampa.com). “IBM right now is trying to get out of just focusing on its own install base, and trying to get out of just being viewed as a Token-Ring and SNA vendor,” he says. “So in effect what you see IBM doing is adopting the equipment profile that is much more closely aligned with a [networking specialist like] Cisco or Lucent or Nortel.”

Alunni notes that in the past year alone, IBM has made a number of Ethernet-related announcements, and says that in the RAS space IBM has already established itself as a big player. “In terms of RAS capability, you have to look at IBM as being a serious player particularly around the VPN and security spaces, all of which add to the completeness of this profile that they’re trying to adopt and extend their credibility as a networking vendor.”

--S. Swoyer