Is Gigabit Ethernet right for you?

If most of the applications in your office are productivity tools such as word-processing software and e-mail, then you probably don't need Gigabit Ethernet. There are still plenty of 100 megabits/sec Fast Ethernet on the backbone and pokey old 10 megabits/sec Ethernet to the desktop — and in many situations those may still work just fine.

That situation could change quickly, however, as bandwidth-hungry applications such as video-, voice- and graphics-laden Web-based applications become more of the norm on networks. Then 100 megabits/sec speeds will have to go to desktop computers, and an upgrade in backbone speeds will be mandatory.

The prices for Gigabit Ethernet cards have plummeted in the past year, but that might not be enough of a cut for some. Come this time next year, even that excuse will disappear as prices continue to fall, analysts say.

For many people, the move is already a no-brainer.

Because Gigabit Ethernet is technically identical to Fast Ethernet and 10 megabits/sec Ethernet, and runs over the same copper or fiber cable, replacing the relevant cards and switches is all that is needed for a network upgrade. Supporting gear such as network management software and network and cabling test systems should not have to be touched, vendor officials say.

Upgrading to Gigabit Ethernet from Fast Ethernet can only be considered a positive next step, said Vince Spina, director of technology systems engineering for Cisco Systems Inc.

"You get 10 times the performance for a nominal cost, and that can be easily justified by the increase in productivity gained by running things over the exact same" cable, he said.

— Brian Robinson

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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