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Networking Technologies Should Match System Applications for Optimum Deliverables
Publication: CI Press Release Issued: Date: 1997-08-22 Reporter: CI Systems

CI Press Release


In today's increasingly global economy, high-speed networks are not a luxury they are a necessity. So says Richard Young, Managing Director of CI Systems, a Cape Town based company specialising in real-time networking solutions for mission-critical applications.

Young stresses that, to optimise a system's performance, its networking technologies should match its applications.

For example, 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, 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," Young says.

He points out that, in CI Systems' experience, Fast Ethernet is gaining supporters among those commercial 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 differences 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.

"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," says Young.

"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."

Young claims that the current immaturity of ATM standards and technology does not support real-time, mission-critical, distributed systems.

The standard topology for ATM is also limiting. ATM employs a star-type topology requiring an expensive switch. This implies that the technology is not scalable; the central switch also implies a single point of failure.

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 for high speed networks, 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 CI Systems to ensure the most effective and cost-efficient solutions.

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

On the management side, Young says companies should look for a system that reduces the effort of managing complicated and critical networks.

CI Systems recently launched a Network Management System (NMS) capable of significantly reducing the cost and effort of managing real-time LAN environments in mining, processing, manufacturing, defence and other industries where high network availability and survivability is a key requirement.

Coming from the defence environment, the NMS offers a military strength' network management solution to the mining and industrial arena. Elements of this solution include guaranteed network failure detection thresholds and short Mean Time To Repair (MTTR), along with high flexibility, dependability and low cost.

This makes the system suitable for numerous specialised applications across industry, especially where processing and/or continuous manufacturing are involved.

The NMS's powerful man-machine interface provides graphics-based, diagrammatic visualisation of both the physical network infrastructure and logical connections. The interface has been simplified specifically to allow lower-skilled operators to take over some network monitoring and trouble-shooting tasks, thereby allowing higher skilled staff to focus on value-added activities.

"Elements of this solution include guaranteed network failure detection thresholds and short Mean Time To Repair (MTTR), along with high flexibility, dependability and low cost.

"This makes the system suitable for numerous specialised applications across industry, especially where processing and/or continuous manufacturing are involved," he concludes.