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Hype and reality in Atlanta

I spent part of last week wandering around the show floor at Networld + Interop in Atlanta. Weep not for the marketers, for they are healthy and perfecting the art of loud, shrill data-free presentations. I've been to more Interop shows than I care to remember and I do remember one where the antics that some vendors were using to attract people to their booths were so intrusive and so unrelated to whatever product was being hyped. Christopher Columbus, complete with antique globe tried to convince passers by that someone from the 1400s might know something about technology of the late 1990s. A magician cheated at card tricks while saying that he was being truthful about some gadget. Skydivers yelled, race car drivers signed autographs, and women, whose skirt length seemed inversely proportional to the value of the contents of a booth, handed out buttons and flyers. All in all, a depressing comment on the maturity of the data communications market.

If one was able to stand the din and distractions for long enough to survey the seemingly acres of floor space one thing clearly stood out - gigabit Ethernet. It seemed like there was no place at that show where one could stand without seeing a sign that included the words "gigabit Ethernet".

There were gigabit Ethernet NIC cards, gigabit Ethernet switches, gigabit Ethernet switching-routers, gigabit Ethernet level-3 switches, gigabit Ethernet routers, gigabit Ethernet testers, gigabit Ethernet analyzers. I was half expecting to see a gigabit Ethernet interface for a Coca-Cola machine (it was Atlanta, the home town of Coke, after all).

In spite of the omnipresent purveyors of hype, there is something here. Where at Network + Interop last spring in Las Vegas there were a couple of dozen. mostly empty, boxes labeled gigabit Ethernet, this stuff is real. We are starting to see gigabit Ethernet products in the Harvard Network Device Test Lab (See for the test results for a gigabit Ethernet switch/router (I don't like the term level-3 switch) routing IP traffic at 2.38 million packets per second, limited by the number of tester ports we have not yet by the device itself.) I expect we will see quite a few more gigabit Ethernet products over the next few months. This technology has gone from a glimmer in someone's eye to vendors who are not afraid to have their products tested by an independent test lab in less than two years, an astonishing achievement. And you can actually buy some of them.

And these are not just fast dumb boxes. Many of them include all sorts of quality of service (QoS) controls. (Though it might be a while before the networks I deal with are to the point of needing to decide what packets to hold back, so that others can get through faster, on gigabit speed links. That is the basic function of network QoS. Hundred Mbps Ethernet was only installed a little while ago.) Others have security filters or can do "level-4" (read "application") based forwarding. And this is only the first generation! I can hardly imagine what Interop Vegas will be like in the spring.

disclaimer: Harvard don't do nothin dumb, anyway these are my own painful or surprised observations.