News | May 11, 1999

N+I 1999: Fore Systems Offers Fusion of Ethernet and ATM

By: John Spofford

The latest chapter of the asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) "death watch" has Gigabit Ethernet slaying what little presence ATM has establish in the local area. If you doubt this, ask any of the Gigabit Ethernet vendors here at Networld+Interop. ATM vendor Fore Systems Inc. (Pittsburgh) is bucking this conventional wisdom with the introduction the ESX-3000 LAN Edge Switch (shown on right)—a product it says provides the best of Ethernet and ATM.

Expanding Fore's family of Gigabit Ethernet ESX switches the company gained through the acquisition of Berkeley Networks last summer, the ESX-3000 combines Fore's ATM expertise with "application aware" technology originally developed by Berkeley to provide bandwidth control for delay-sensitive applications at the network edge. Unlike traditional routers and switches, the ESX switches use ASICs that support stateful application flow classification to classify data flows by application and enforce a variety of policies, such as security or class of service, at wire speed on all ports.

The ESX-3000 is a modular product that offers combined density Ethernet and ATM LAN ports. With eight-port card slots, the ESX-3000 offers support for 192 ports of 10/100 Mbps Ethernet (available Q3), 128 ports of OC-3c (155 Mbps) ATM, or 32 ports of OC-12c (622 Mbps) ATM.

For the wiring closet or backbone
The network manager has the option of implementing ATM or Ethernet, or a mixture of both, without requiring different backplane versions of the switch. The ESX-3000 may be deployed in the wiring closet or as an extension of a high-performance backbone, giving customers the ability to fine-tune application flow within multiservice network traffic.

"Fore is delivering a solution that provides a true mixture of ATM and Ethernet. This level of flexibility will become even more important in the future as enterprise networks take on new applications that are increasingly bandwidth-hungry," says Eddie Hold, senior analyst, enterprise infrastructure, at Current Analysis, a Sterling VA-based consultancy.

Because its switch architecture integrates the two technologies, the ESX-3000 delivers ATM's advanced quality of service (QoS) and traffic engineering capabilities to Ethernet, Fore says. When deployed in the wiring closet, the ESX-3000 provides application-specific bandwidth control allowing multiservice networks to support new applications such as LAN telephony, voice over IP, videoconferencing, e-commerce, or Enterprise Resource Planning.

When deployed as an extension of a LAN backbone, the ESX-3000 provides ATM properties to Ethernet trunks or backbone links, delivering load balancing, fast failover and recovery, capacity-aware routing, and dynamic protection switching. With its ATM capabilities, the ESX-3000 permits users to add capacity, ports and bandwidth without having to reconfigure the IP topology or change IP addressing.

Future-proofed architecture
According to Fore, the ESX-3000 is architected to handle OC-48c (2.5 Gbps) ports in the future. The ESX-3000 features a 20 Gbps, non-blocking distributed shared memory architecture, and is available in half capacity (10 Gbps) to permit even more deployment options.

An ESX-3000 in a 20 Gbps starter configuration is available today and costs $20,995. Fully loaded with UTP5 ATM ports, the ESX-3000 costs $525 per port. Hot swappable ATM port cards are available today. Hot swappable 10/100 Ethernet port cards will be available in the third quarter.