Fiber-based show network binds diverse technologies

Fiber-based show network binds diverse technologies

george kotelly

High-speed backbone networks, high-bandwidth applications, Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) technology and the Internet constituted the primary areas of focus for attendees at the spring Networld+Interop 96 conference held at the Las Vegas Convention Center last month. Although the event is widely known as a local area network (LAN) product show rather than a networking technology conference, several fiber-optic companies profiled a range of new Synchronous Optical Network (Sonet), Fibre Channel, Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI) and optoelectronics products. The center of attention, however, proved to be an integrated fiber-optic/copper-wire network called InteropNet, which linked virtually every exhibitor booth throughout the North and South Halls of the huge convention center to a network operations center in the front lobby.

The topics that dominated the nearly 40 general conference sessions were computer-telephony integration, network connectivity, ATM and switched networks, enterprise applications and the Internet. Most of the sessions focused on the demands for increased network bandwidth. As Bill Gates, chairman and chief executive of Microsoft Corp., stated in the opening keynote address, the weakness of the Internet "is the speed of the connections." Moreover, Hewlett-Packard`s Optical Communications Division disclosed a marketing communications trend: The company is shifting from "information" to "speed of communication" as a competitive product tool.

Session speakers presented their views on resolving the issues of cost-effectively selecting the proper network equipment--such as switches, hubs, routers or concentrators--and the best implemented networking protocols--such as frame relay, asymmetric distributed subscriber line (ADSL), Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN), time division multiplexing (TDM), transmission control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP), FDDI or ATM. Moving up to ATM technology and achieving greater than 100-megabit-per-second network speeds seemed to represent the overall session views for meeting increased network transmission demands.

In another keynote address, John Gerdelman, president of networkMCI Services, MCI Communications Corp., predicted that the winners in the new information-centered age will be those who understand the power and possibilities that stem from the convergence of networks and computers, and who manage information to a competitive advantage.

The showcase

Set up as a "living laboratory" just inside the main entrance of the convention center, the network operations center served as the central control of the InteropNet network (see Fig. 1). Show attendees were able to view the center in action during the entire show. Networking equipment and personnel worked in a large "fishbowl-type" area surrounded by Plexiglas walls.

InteropNet functioned both as a demonstration network and a technology showcase. It served as a networking industry catalyst by enabling exhibitors who contributed hardware and software to participate in a production-type network. In addition, this leading-edge experimental network "pushes the envelope of various technologies," according to Ron Pashby, an InteropNet operations center team member from the University of New Hampshire Interoperability Laboratory.

In operation for nearly every one of more than 500 exhibitor booths, InteropNet provided an event-oriented enterprise architecture that transferred high-bandwidth, multiprotocol, multivendor voice, video and data communications in demonstrating the latest network, intranet and Internet technologies. During the Las Vegas show, it continuously delivered communications applications dealing with stable and dependable network technologies; safe and newly tested network technologies that are not yet ready for full-scale implementation, such as ATM and LAN emulation; innovative and self-contained technologies used in an experimental environment to analyze suitability for future use, such as 622-Mbit/sec OC-12 ATM; and new, experimental network technologies that are setting pioneer boundaries. In this manner, exhibitors were able to showcase functionality and interoperability among their own network hardware and software products and with those of other vendors, including their competitors.

Basically, InteropNet comprised two fiber-optic backbone networks: a primary ATM network running at 155 Mbits/sec, with a mesh of dedicated permanent virtual circuits between routers; and a dual-ring, redundant, FDDI network running at 100 Mbits/sec. Two core routers attached to the backbone networks protected connectivity and provided added redundancy.

Using both fiber-optic cables and twisted-pair copper wires, the routers served the exhibitor booths with multipoint video over ATM; ATM-to-Ethernet with LAN emulation; 622-Mbit/sec OC-12 ATM link; 10Base-T, 100Base-T and 100VG-AnyLAN; as well as Ethernet and Token Ring network technologies. The network also employed various software operating systems, such as Windows NT, Windows 95, Windows 3.1, DOS, NetWare 4.1, AIX, IRIX, Solaris 2.4 and 2.5, LS 4.14 and Linux.

According to Mike Millikin, senior vice president of Networld+Interop, "Creation of the InteropNet reflects all the demands found in today`s organization: integration of classical and emerging technologies, connection of multiple and remote sites, integration of different media and protocols, and the creation of intranets and links to the Internet."

The parts

The 6000-node InteropNet contained 90 miles of fiber-optic cable that interconnected all the concentrator and router network equipment racks distributed throughout the show floor to the ATM and FDDI backbone networks. The racks housed approximately 4000 pieces of internetworking equipment valued at more than $15 million.

As many as 29 fiber strands were enclosed in 62 thick, military-grade cables for strength and environmental protection. Special quick-disconnect connectors and standard patch panels allow fast prepatching and "hot-state" cable connections that saved network installation and operational time.

"Rib" networks linked the exhibitor booths to the equipment racks--called "peds" for pedestals. The 24 concentrator pedestals used 120 miles of Category 5 twisted-pair wire for handling the 10Base-T, 100Base-T, 100VG-AnyLAN and Token Ring copper network technologies. The six router pedestals employed multimode fiber cables for transporting ATM megabit-network and Sonet gigabit-network transmissions.

All the InteropNet cables and equipment were donated by the 110 communications companies and academic institutions that make up the InteropNet Contributors Program. Communications market competitors, therefore, worked together to determine networking solutions for the common benefits of education, interoperability and open standards.

What`s more, the InteropNet was designed, implemented and operated by voluntary members of the network operations center team. These members are engineering experts from the commercial, government and academic sectors of the networking industry. They set up the InteropNet under tight time constraints--about three days--and deployed about the same amount of fiber and copper as are installed in a new skyscraper building.

Commented Steve Hultquist, president of Worldwide Solutions Inc. and a member of the network operations center, "Unlike the protected environments in which many technology feats are performed, the InteropNet is the fire of reality that refines the technology and proves exactly what can be accomplished in networking today."

The fiber products

Despite the Networld+Interop show`s reputation for being a copper networking and product show, a smattering of fiber-optics-based companies took the opportunity to present new fiber-optic and optoelectronic products.

Four members of the Fibre Channel Association--Ancor Communications Inc. of Minnetonka, MN; Interphase Corp. of Dallas, TX; Jaycor of San Diego, CA; and Systran Corp. of Dayton, OH--unveiled PCI-based host adapters, a Fibre Channel switch, remote FTP software and host adapters based on VME and Sbus standards. Other association members that displayed Fibre Channel products were Ancot, Emulex, Hewlett-Packard, HP`s Canadian Networks Operation, Raidtec, Vitesse Semiconductor and Western Digital.

Ancor presented Lightspeed FTP, a Unix software application that boosts the speed of large file transfers across LANs and wide area networks. This applications works effectively in Fibre Channel networks that do not have to support such upper layer protocols as TCP/IP. To demonstrate the software, two workstations were connected to the company`s Fibre Channel switches to drive memory-to-memory transfers at 1-Gbit/sec speeds.

Interphase showed its Model 5526 Fibre Channel host adapter, which provides single-port connectivity from a PCI slot. The adapter supports 1062-, 531- and 266-megabaud link speeds and Class 1, 2 or 3 Fibre Channel services. In addition, it accommodates all three Fibre Channel topologies--arbitrated loop, point-to-point and switched fabric--as well as 16,384 concurrent SCSI input/output operations.

A PCI host adapter that handles full- and quarter-speed Fibre Channel data transfers and a quarter-speed Fibre Channel switch and were put through their paces by Jaycor.

Systran displayed the FibreXpress family of Fibre Channel host adapters. These adapters serve in PCI, VME and Sbus architectures and support 266-Mbaud or 1.062-gigabaud data transmission rates, 100-megabyte-per-second data rates and Fibre Channel Class 1, 2 or 3 communications. Moreover, each adapter card contains 128 or 512 kilobytes of buffer memory and works with either fiber-optic cable or copper wire.

The Optical Communications Division of Hewlett-Packard presented Fibre Channel and FDDI component products. The Fibre Channel devices provide the protocol and physical layer interfaces needed to implement a complete system bus to serial interface connection for under $100. One product, a mass-storage protocol integrated circuit compatible with HP`s Tachyon architecture, supports Fibre Channel layers FC-1 through FC-4 for Class 3, 100-Mbit/sec, arbitrated-loop applications. It incorporates a 33-megahertz, 32/64-bit, PCI-bus interface and a parallel interface to the physical layer that complies with the 10-bit interface specification.

Another Hewlett-Packard product, the FDX1125B transceiver, supports FDDI interoperability requirements. It combines 1300-nanometer Fabry-Perot laser sources, PIN detectors and SC-duplex connectors in a 1 ¥ 9-pin package. In addition to extending transmission distances to 14.4 kilometers, the device permits an upgrade path to singlemode fiber for networks that currently use multimode fiber. Moreover, the transceiver offers compatibility with the company`s SDX1155B Sonet/SDH/ATM transceiver and serves as a drop-in replacement for HP`s line of light-emitting diode multimode fiber-optic transceivers.

Robert Mayer, Fibre Channel product marketing manager; Michael Hartmann, business manager; and David Herron, public relations manager; all at the HP Fiber Optics Components Operation, shared some industry insights on future optical developments expected during 1996 and beyond. These trends anticipate IEEE.802 LANs to become gigabit networks, ATM/Sonet networks to function mainly at OC-48 or 2.5 Gbits/sec, low-cost plastic fiber connections and high-speed optical backplanes to emerge, and parallel optics N-plex multichannel transceivers to be developed for telecommunications switching equipment.

OnStream Networks added 155-Mbit/sec Sonet OC-3 and high-speed serial user-network-interface modules with advanced traffic management capabilities to its CS600 ATM access products. The modules implement the deep buffer, early packet discard and traffic prioritization capabilities of the CS600`s Intellistream architecture to provide cost-effective ATM services access, TDM-to-ATM network migration and interactive voice and video, stored and live video and high-speed data communications.

"The CS600 ATM access platform supports sophisticated traffic shaping over ATM/Sonet and high-speed serial networks," claimed David Yates, vice president of marketing. The product integrates traffic from the user`s premises using native interfaces before adapting the traffic for final ATM switching. According to several industry analysts, shaping traffic and supporting low-to-high-speed ATM services are crucial to successful ATM deployment.

Positron Fiber Systems Inc. showed its Osiris-Micro Sonet access multiplexer that adds fiber network support to digital loop carrier cabinets (see Fig. 2). Although it comes in a small (7 ¥ 8.75 ¥ 10-inch) 5-card-slot rack, the unit performs like a full Sonet OC-3 add/drop multiplexer. It supports unidirectional path-switched rings; remote configuration, administration and network management and provisioning; and two, four or seven DS-1, one DS-3 and one or two Ethernet LAN interfaces.

Andrew Knott, vice president of marketing, points out, "The Osiris-Micro is less than half the cost and one-fourth the size of other OC-3 multiplexers. Users can use this technology for campus and metropolitan area networks in applications previously relegated to proprietary fiber point-to-point access solutions."

Siecor Corp., Hickory, NC, introduced several fiber cabling products for premises networks. Its Plug and Play system provides jumpers to connect the desktop to fiber-optic outlets, prestubbed outlets to establish optical connections to the telecommunications closet, prestubbed telecommunications closets to establish optical connections to the fiber distribution center, jumpers to connect the main crossconnect to data centers, and preconnectorized cable to establish connections at an already installed base. All products are available preconnectorized on one or both ends, thereby permitting field-installable connections.

The company`s LANscape Solutions comprise a line of tip-to-tip products and design-through-operation services for premises network fiber cabling. The products include fiber-optic cables, termination and splice equipment, hardware items, cable assemblies, tool kits, test equipment, and the Plug and Play units. The services encompass design assistance, proposal preparation, fiber-optic training programs, on-site engineering support, and equipment rental and leasing programs. q

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