Packet Engines unwraps Gigabit Ethernet wares

Packet Engines Inc. this week introduced a line of Gigabit Ethernet routing switches designed to increase bandwidth on the network backbone and to provide high-speed connections to data centers.

The PowerRail family of routing switches includes three models: the 1000, designed for the edge of the network; the 2200, for enterprise distribution; and the 5200, aimed at the core of the enterprise, such as the data center.

The routing switches accomplish routing through hardware. This makes them less expensive and higher-performing than traditional routers, which are based on software, said Kevin Sheehan, director of product management at Packet Engines.

The PowerRail switches also operate at wire speed, which means they can handle the smallest-size packet as fast as it can travel on a particular medium, unlike traditional routers, which can slow data transmissions.

The PowerRail switches can operate at wire speed even under maximum load, Sheehan added. This performance is important as agency network traffic grows. "Traditionally, most traffic on the network stayed local. Now more users are on the Web and share information," Sheehan said. "Traffic has grown, and most of it has to cross boundaries in the network. Users need a wire-speed router so [that] there are no bottlenecks at the core of the network."

With a feature called Infinite Routing, the PowerRail switches are capable of handling more than 37 million packets per second, which is more than 70 times that of traditional routers, according to the company, and the PowerRail switches can handle as many as 1.5 million addresses.

The switches also support different protocols, including Internet Protocol and IPX, which is the protocol used by Novell Inc.'s NetWare. Also, all parts of the PowerRail family are redundant and hot-swappable.

"Most government users move and analyze a lot of data today," Sheehan said. "With Infinite Routing and high reliability, the switches are a perfect match for a lot of government installations."

Finally, the new products allow administrators to manage the bandwidth and prioritize traffic based on users and applications so that the most important traffic gets sent first over the available bandwidth.

While users are just beginning to buy Gigabit Ethernet products, that trend will pick up as Fast Ethernet to the desktop becomes the norm, said David Passmore, president of NetReference Inc., a network consulting firm in Sterling, Va.

"With Fast Ethernet on the desktop, there will be a huge requirement for Gigabit Ethernet in the core and in the backbone. That will drive the need for Gigabit Ethernet products," Passmore said.

He also said he expects routing switches will replace software-based routers, but the software products will still have a place at the edge of the network providing wide-area connections.

The Energy Department's Ames Laboratory is using the PowerRail 5200 at the core of its network to connect a mix of Intel Corp. Pentium and Digital Equipment Corp. Alpha machines, said David Halstead, the network manager at Ames' Scalable Computing Laboratory. The network supports bandwidth-intensive molecular dynamics simulations.

The PowerRail is being used as the cluster interconnect for a collection of high-powered compute nodes, allowing them to work in parallel on large-scale simulations that previously could only have been performed on an expensive supercomputer, Halstead said.

"We need to have efficient communications channels," Halstead said. "Fast Ethernet was not fast enough. The routing switch can handle all the traffic we throw at it." The PowerRail offers speeds in excess of 240 megabits/sec using Transmission Control Protocol/IP, while Fast Ethernet has a maximum throughput of around 90 megabits/sec, he said.

The PowerRail 5200 has a 52 gigabits/sec capacity and supports up to 25 Gigabit Ethernet or 240 Fast Ethernet ports.

The 2200, with 22 gigabits/sec capacity, supports up to 10 Gigabit Ethernet or 100 Fast Ethernet ports.

The 1000 comes with 10 gigabits/sec capacity and is configured with two Gigabit Ethernet and 20 Fast Ethernet ports.

The PowerRail 5200 is available now, and the 2200 and the 1000 will be available later this summer. They will be added to the General Services Administration schedule, the company said.

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