Intel Jumps into Gigabit-over-Copper Fray

Intel Corp. began shipping gigabit-over-copper switches with its announcement of four new network switch products. With these new products, Intel (www.intel.com) claims to support the latest e-business applications and services for Internet and corporate network users.

Two of three new Intel NetStructure switches, as well as a new switch uplink module, take advantage of widely deployed Category 5 copper wiring to boost network performance. Gigabit over copper provides the performance of gigabit products based on fiber optic networks but allows organizations to use their existing Category 5 copper-based infrastructure.

Intel’s product line manager, Steve Rotz, says Gigabit Ethernet’s time has come.

"The transition to fast Ethernet is basically accomplished, and users have realized its benefits. But that created choke points in the network backbone," he says.

The new switches, which are part of the Intel NetStructure family of communications products and services announced in February, include the 470T, 470F, and 480T.

The Intel NetStructure 470T Switch and Intel NetStructure 470F Switch are Intel's next-generation of entry-level gigabit switches.

The 470T -- with six 100/1,000Base-T copper ports and two gigabit interface converters (GBIC) ports -- and the 470F -- with eight 1,000Base-SX ports -- are Layer 2 solutions for aggregating workgroup switches and e-business servers. Both switches deliver quality of service (QoS) features for intelligent control of data center and workgroup traffic. The 470T also offers maximum media flexibility to address cost and distance limitations. The switches will be available later this month, according to Intel.

The Intel NetStructure 480T Routing Switch is a data center gigabit switch that provides controlled bandwidth for demanding e-business applications. The 480T aggregates server farms, campus switches, and desktop switches in a Layer 3 switch with 12 100/1,000Base-T copper ports and four GBIC ports. The feature-rich 480T offers advanced QoS capabilities such as 802.1p prioritization and bandwidth shaping, a variety of management capabilities, and maximum media flexibility. An optional software upgrade adds support for advanced Layer 3 routing features to optimize video streaming on the network. Intel says the 480T will ship next month.

In addition to the new switches, Intel introduced an uplink module to enable Intel Express 460T Standalone Switches to link to servers or backbones using gigabit-over-copper technology. The module supports all features of the Express 460T Standalone Switch, including 802.1Q Virtual LANs (VLANs), link aggregation and 802.1p prioritization. The new Intel NetStructure gigabit switches and the uplink module are compliant with IEEE standards for interoperability and integrated operation on a network. The module is currently available.

Rotz points out that there are advantages to using copper.

"Copper is inherently lower-cost because fiber transceivers are expensive and tough to manage," he says. "But we won’t drive exclusively to gigabit-over-copper."

Intel will offer fiber as well because of its advantages. Copper is limited to 100 meters, but fiber can be used over much greater distances. Fiber also offers improved security because it doesn’t pick up other frequencies as easily, and it’s tougher to splice into the line without being detected.