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Fast Ethernet, ATM, FDDI - Networking Technologies should Match System Applications
Publication: CI Press Release Issued: Date: 1997-09-23 Reporter: CI Systems

CI Press Release

1997-09-23

In today's highly competitive business environment, high-speed networks are not a luxury - they are a necessity. Spurred on by impatient users, vendors are constantly investing in research and development programmes that will deliver faster standards.

Commercial High-Speed Networks

When it was publicly announced in the early 1980s, T-1's 1.544 Mbps was quickly adopted. Later that decade, looking to replace data switches, users snapped up Ethernet LANs, then considered high-speed.

And, at the beginning of the 1990s, it seemed that FDDI's 10 to 100 times greater speed would see it become one of the most significant standards for high-performance LANs through the decade.

At least that was true before ATM was introduced. Today, network managers have a wide choice of technologies - from Fast Ethernet to FDDI and ATM, from ISDN to Fast Relay.

According to respected industry watcher, Computer Technology Research Corporation, an American industry publication recently polled its readers as to the technologies most likely to impact on their professional lives in the immediate years ahead.

ATM finished first by a wide margin, well ahead of Fast Ethernet and FDDI despite the fact that ATM technology is far from standardised. Add to this the ongoing debate about the virtues of FDDI versus those of ATM, and the market is clearly in a state of turmoil.

For managers of commercial networks who can't afford to wait until the dust surrounding the FDDI vs ATM debate has settled, Fast Ethernet could be a solution. In fact, some users may find that Fast Ethernet meets their needs for many years to come.

In CCII Systems' experience, Fast Ethernet is gaining supporters among those network managers seeking to enhance LAN capabilities for desktop applications. This is because, at this level of implementation, price is important.

FDDI and ATM technologies are at a distinct price disadvantage and, although costs per user are falling for all three technologies, the difference between them should remain constant.

The implication is that, in commercial networking environments at least, Fast Ethernet solutions should not be overlooked in the scramble for more glamorous high-speed networks.

Yes, the more alluring solutions are ATM and FDDI but, in the short term at least, Fast Ethernet could turn out to be the "Cinderella" of the high-speed ball capturing more than the Prince's heart.

Mission-Critical Networks

This observation does not automatically apply, however, to real-time, mission-critical, distributed system environments such as process plants, fly-by-wire aircraft, medical-life support systems, air defence systems and electronic banking networks.

Such critically real-time applications typically demand the capacity to handle high data rates and vast data volumes with low latency times in a reliable, deterministic and secure manner.

In addition, real-time, mission-critical distributed systems generally demand features such as effectiveness, coherency, dependability, high survivability (self-healing/enclaving), ease of use and maintenance, upgradability and more.

Given these numerous and complex parameters, it is unlikely that ATM will become the standard for next-generation mission-critical networks in the short to medium term.

The current immaturity of ATM standards and technology does not support real-time, mission-critical, distributed systems. Neither does ATM intrinsically provide fault-tolerance, which means that users will have to employ special techniques - probably at considerable cost - to ensure the required degree of system dependability. Further limitations of ATM include high cost and complexity.

In the absence of a de facto standard such as ATM, it would seem that only rigorous system engineering, including cost/benefit analysis, can determine precisely the appropriate choice of technology and topology for any particular application.

Therefore it is advisable that implementors of real-time, mission-critical, distributed systems work with experienced and knowledgeable suppliers such as CCII Systems to ensure the most effective and cost-efficient solutions.

As neither ATM nor Fast Ethernet is appropriate for mission-critical networks, CCII Systems recommends that organisations look to FDDI (Fibre Distributed Data Interface) to meet their needs until the long-awaited standard emerges.