Compaq enters Gigabit Ethernet switch market

Compaq Computer Corp., best known for its servers and personal computers, entered the Gigabit Ethernet market last week with the introduction of two switches that it says will increase bandwidth on agency networks.

Compaq already sells hubs, routers and other products that support Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, token-ring and Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI) technology, but the company sees a requirement for higher-bandwidth networks.

"The feedback I'm getting from resellers and integrators is that the FDDI and Fast Ethernet backbones are becoming saturated," said Gary Newgaard, director of federal sales and marketing at Compaq. "Compaq is the only manufacturer to introduce a Gigabit Ethernet switch with a server-centric focus. It will allow users to maximize computing power throughout the enterprise."

The enterprise Gigabit Ethernet switches come in two versions: The 5411 comes with eight 10/100 Base-TX ports and three Gigabit Ethernet ports, and the 5422 comes with 16 10/100 Base-TX ports and six Gigabit Ethernet ports. The 5411 switch offers 16 gigabits/sec throughput, and the 5422 provides 32 gigabits/sec capacity.

Both switches come with Layer 3 Internet Protocol routing, which Compaq said improves performance 10 times over traditional routers and supports Windows-based management through the Simple Network Management Protocol, remote monitoring and World Wide Web-based management.

Also included is Compaq Networking Management Software to simplify installation and monitoring of the switches, and Compaq Insight Manager to manage Compaq servers and workstations on the network.

The switches will provide the company with a new market opportunity in the government, Newgaard said. "From a Compaq Federal perspective, it becomes a new addressable space," he said.

The switches will be added to the General Services Administration schedule and other contracts that carry Compaq products, including NASA's Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement II and the Nation Institutes of Health's Electronic Computer Store. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Sandia National Laboratories are among the agencies testing the switches.

Compaq acquired networking technology through its acquisitions of Thomas-Conrad Corp. and NetWorth several years ago and will continue to invest in networking to provide an end-to-end solution for its PC and server users, Newgaard said. "These are the first [Gigabit Ethernet] switches we've delivered to the market, but it is not a one-time shot," he said. "They are the result of the acquisitions and the merging of all the technology we acquired. We are committed to the market."

While the Gigabit Ethernet market is still relatively small, it will grow, said John Armstrong, an analyst with Dataquest. "We are bullish on the Gigabit Ethernet market, but the market is going to take a while to reach critical mass," he said. Large local-area networking companies such as Cisco Systems Inc. have yet to roll out Gigabit Ethernet products, which has tended to slow down the adoption rate, he added.

Users also will need to become more comfortable with the technology before they install a Gigabit Ethernet switch in the network backbone, Armstrong said. "Most large users will be cautious because if something goes wrong, it will affect the whole network," he said.

Compaq will see its biggest competition in the Gigabit Ethernet space in the form of top-tier networking companies such as Bay Networks Inc., Cabletron Systems Inc. and Cisco. However, it should have little problem in attracting its installed base, Armstrong said.

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