Fore tackles 25-megabit/sec ATM

Fore Systems Inc., the leader in 155 megabit/sec desktop Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) installations in the federal government, last week unveiled its first 25 megabit/sec product. Company officials hope the new switch will attract users of PCs and lower-end workstations.

Jeffrey White, product line manager of ATM switches at Fore, said the ForeRunner 25 ATM switch, interface modules and adapters will allow users to run ATM applications over unshielded twisted-pair wiring for less than half the price of a typical 155-megabit connection. White said a 25 megabit/sec link would cost $598 per connection, as opposed to $1,600 per 155 megabit/sec connection, based on commercial prices.

Richard Bibb, director of federal operations at Fore, said Fore customers in the Defense Department and intelligence communities - whom he declined to name - want 25-megabit products in order to provide ATM to more users.

"If you look at the installed base of desktop ATM users in the federal government, there is a range of users running at OC-3 [155 megabit/sec] rates," Bibb said. "But some of them don't have a need for OC-3, or maybe their machines or cable infrastructure don't support it. They view 25-megabit [products] as just another useful choice."

The announcement adds weight to the fledgling ATM 25 standard heretofore embraced mainly by Token Ring vendors such as IBM Corp. and Madge Networks Inc. The technology offers the same benefits as those present at OC-3 speeds, such as switched virtual circuits and local-area network emulation. The main difference lies in bandwidth size, which some power users may find inadequate. But White said the ForeRunner 25 was not designed with power users in mind.

"These are designed specifically for PCs and Macintoshes," he said.

Many agencies are experimenting with desktop ATM. But it remains unclear how many of them are prepared to invest in the technology when others, such as switched Ethernet and Fast Ethernet, loom on the horizon. For example, Frank Sutton, assistant director of applied technologies at the Justice Department, said agency officials only last week began discussions with systems integrator GTE Corp. on which technology would best serve users.

"There are a number of alternatives on the table right now across the industry," Sutton said. "Twenty-five-megabit ATM is just one. We're watching it and waiting for our users to determine their applications. Once that is established, we are well positioned with our ATM backbone to move forward."

Bibb said the new Fore products should be available "within the next month or so" through Electronic Data Systems Corp.'s Unified Local-Area Network Architecture II contract with the Air Force, Unisys Corp.'s Scientific and Engineering Workstation procurement with NASA, and Fore's own General Services Administration schedule contract.

The new switch supports either 18 or 24 25-megabit ports as well as LAN and wide-area network uplinks ranging between 1.5 megabit/sec and 622 megabit/sec.

Fore also announced a six-port, 25-megabit switch interface module that fits into any of Fore's existing switches. It also announced 25- and 155-megabit ForeRunnerLE ATM adapters for PCI bus PCs and servers. Laurie Ann Sims, Fore's product manager for adapters, said the adapters will support Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 95 and Windows NT, IBM's OS/2 Warp Connect, Novell Inc.'s NetWare and Apple Computer Inc.'s Open Transport platform. "We have a complete LAN solution now," Sims said.

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