Network Translation

As NME celebrates its 100th issue, we are highlighting some of the key technologies that have evolved within the active and passive networking space. Furthermore, we examine the reasons for their developments and the future challenges they face.

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By  Zoe Moleshead Published  March 27, 2003

Milestones 1|~||~||~|As NME celebrates its 100th issue, we are highlighting some of the key technologies that have evolved within the active and passive networking space. Furthermore, we examine the reasons for their developments and the future challenges they face.

IBM developed the Systems Network Architecture (SNA) in 1974 as its mainframe standard, which provided a centralised architecture with a host computer managing terminals. However, the increasing use of Internet Protocol (IP) has seen the mainframe protocol begin to disappear as enterprises benefit from the flexibility, reliability and robustness that IP offers.

With much of today’s traffic run over IP — which is the network layer protocol in the TCP/IP communications suite and contains a network address that allows messages to be transported to other networks or subnet — most enterprises are supporting the protocol.

“Today over 90% of all traffic carried around — local or international — has an IP header at the point where it’s generated… And most destinations will handle IP traffic,” says Ivan Kraemer, sales & marketing manager, Procurve marketing business ISE, HP.

“Users want intuitive and consistent user interfaces, and companies want the flexibility and improved productivity that the IP protocol has been instrumental in making happen,” he adds.

Additionally, IP managed to win over Ethernet opponents that were initially pushing for the SNA shared standard because of its collision capabilities. “However, switching effectively took the limitation of a collision domain away and Ethernet became a very viable technology to use locally where it originates from, and also the in the metropolitan area network (MAN),” explains Kraemer.

Despite the momentum towards IP, SNA is not set to fade away completely. Tim Hubbard, director of technology marketing at Nortel Networks, believes that IP like any other technology has to prove its business value to enterprises. As such, he suggests financial institutions will most likely remain a bolthole for SNA mainframe architecture, before undergoing a period of co-existence between SNA and IP.

“The transitioning [from SNA to IP] is happening, but it is more of an evolutionary process than a revolutionary process. There has to be a business case behind doing anything today,” comments Hubbard.

Gigabit Ethernet
Increasingly bandwidth hungry applications have placed heavy demands on the network edge. This in turn has led to greater requirements in the network backbone, all of which have contributed to the emergence of Gigabit Ethernet.

“Gigabit Ethernet builds on top of the Ethernet protocol, but increases speed tenfold over Fast Ethernet to 1000 M/bit/s or 1 G/bit/s. Gigabit Ethernet allows Ethernet to scale from 10/100 M/bits/s at the desktop to 100 M/bits/s and 1 G/bit/s in the data centre,” says Sam Alkharrat, service provider sales Manager, Cisco Systems Middle East.

“For a period of time local area networks (LANs) ‘borrowed’ the ATM technology from the wide area network (WAN) arena to offer the high speed and the control that FDDI and Fast Ethernet did not have, but it posed a lot of complexity and had a comparatively high cost. Because of Gigabit Ethernet’s high speed, simplicity and lower costs, it overtook the other technologies that were available at the time,” explains Yarob Sakhnini, regional technical manager, Foundry Networks, Middle East.

As Ethernet technology has matured, component costs have also fallen, and Gigabit Ethernet has become a more affordable solution for small-to-medium sized enterprises. Additionally, capitalising on existing copper cabling infrastructures has eased deployments issues, while increasing familiarity with Ethernet among network employees is helping to reduce training costs.

“By leveraging the current Ethernet standard as well as the installed base of Ethernet and Fast Ethernet switches and routers, network managers do not need to retrain in order to provide support for Gigabit Ethernet,” says Alkharrat.

Moreover, as network traffic continues to increase, Gigabit Ethernet will move to the network edge with 10 Gigabit Ethernet deployed in the backbone.

Data/Voice convergence
As with most other technologies, cost savings, simplified management and improvements in networking products and components have facilitated the convergence of voice and data. Traditionally, the two have been run over separate systems, transported by circuit-switching and packet-switching respectively. However, developments in networking sector are enabling enterprises to ‘own’ both their voice and data networks.

“Convergence is finally happening,” claims HP’s Kraemer. “The technology has matured and DSL services allow users to carry IP voice for a fraction of the telco voice costs. It has just taken time for the technology to mature and standards, such as 802.1p and 802.1q to develop and become widely adopted,” he continues

“Voice and data convergence makes what have been completely separate systems, usually managed by two different groups into a single, manageable system,” adds Foundry’s Sakhnini.

While the regional uptake of voice over IP (VoIP) is still hindered by the stance of local telcos, Sakhnini reveals that enterprises are increasingly ‘toying’ with voice and data convergence, primarily within the LAN. Economies of scale are the prime driver behind this convergence.

“There is an immediate cost saving, in terms of equipment purchases, ongoing network maintenance and administration, associated with streamlining two networks into one,” confirms Wael Fakharany, regional manager, 3Com Middle East.
Aside from reducing management and telephone costs through toll bypassing or reduction, enterprises can also reduce resources by downsizing and integrating their voice and data teams.

“Other enterprise business drivers for convergence include the elimination of points of failure, consolidation of accounting systems, support for bandwidth-intensive multimedia and multiservice applications and the opportunity for integration with other applications, such as video, white boarding, document sharing, teleworking, and back office tools in general,” says Emad Makiya, general manager, Extreme Networks, MENA.

||**||Milestones 2|~||~||~|Structured Cabling
Structured cabling developed as a solution to integrate generic cabling, flood wiring and patch panels, all of which are necessary to ensure that cabling infrastructure is capable of carrying different communications systems. Additionally, the copper or fibre cabling enables easier scalability with minimal disruption and allows different outlets to be used for disparate systems.

Structured cabling is also described as horizontal cabling and comprises a single cable containing four twisted pairs that can either be shielded or unshielded.

The IEEE is the regulatory body responsible for determining the standards for horizontal cabling, with the most common being Category 5 and Cat 5e. Most recently, however, Cat 6 has been ratified.

“Category 6 provides customers with a more robust solution for existing applications, better quality for real-time video applications, increased reliability of local area networks through a reduction in network errors and associated downtime, and better immunity to outside interference. These benefits make Category 6 the clear choice for today’s and tomorrow’s network infrastructures,” claims Martin Hennessey, sales director, connectivity solutions, Avaya, Middle East, North Africa, Turkey & Greece.

Despite the continuing developments in the structured cabling industry, such as the ratification of Cat 6 standards and moves towards 10 Gigabit Ethernet copper cabling, the technology is facing competition from optical networks. And while wireless networks cannot completely do away with cabling, they can reduce the amount that is required within a building or location.

“Structured cabling has been around a long time, but as optical networks and wireless local area networks (WLANs) start to come to the fore, what we will see is enterprises implementing WLANs as an alternative to structured cabling. There will be a requirement for WLANs, structured cabling and optical networking to co-exist in the same building. However, structured cabling won’t disappear, it will evolve,” explains Nortel’s Hubbard.

Wireless Local Area Networks
Despite the hype surrounding the security of wireless local area networks (WLANs), the technology is continuing to gain momentum, and both analysts and vendors are flagging wireless networks as a prime mover in 2003.

“Wireless communication is fast becoming one of the Middle East’s great success stories and we’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg… This decade will be about giving people anywhere, anytime access to resources,” comments 3Com’s Fakharany.

For users, wireless networks provide greater flexibility and help to reduce IT costs and cabling headaches. Furthermore, with the speed of 802.11 networks moving beyond 11 M/bits/s and stronger security measures being developed, the proliferation of WLANs is guaranteed.

“Enterprises want a system to pay for itself... WLANs can achieve this. They allow easy access to the corporate LAN from places where a wired solution would be very costly, inconvenient or impractical,” comments Fakharany.

Regionally, Etisalat and Batelco are planning to deliver wireless ‘hotspots’ in selected locations, such as airports. A large number of Middle East hotels and learning institutions are also deploying wireless networks around their properties and campuses.

The deployment of WLANs in public spaces is also driving vendors to develop solutions that enable integration between mobile networks, such as GPRS and 3G and wireless LANs. Laptops and other devices are also increasingly being kitted out with wireless capabilities.

“Public WLAN hotspots are rapidly being rolled out, offering access to the internet for subscribers with wireless 802.11b (Wi-Fi) equipped laptops and PDAs. [As such,] many mobile and DSL operators are at present setting their strategies and deciding what action they should take,” says Chris Moore, regional sales manager, Juniper Networks, Middle East & Southern Africa.||**||

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