Foundry, HP offer copper-based switches

Foundry Networks Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. announced a suite of copper Gigabit Ethernet products based on a new standard that enables Gigabit Ethernet to run over copper cabling.

The new standard, which was approved by the Institute of Electrical Electronics Engineers in July, allows Gigabit Ethernet operations to be transported up to 100 meters using Category 5 twisted pair copper cabling.

Foundry Networks announced a suite of copper Gigabit Ethernet products, while Hewlett-Packard Co. announced plans this month to ship a 1000Base-T Ethernet switch module that supports Category 5 copper cable, the predominant cabling installed in buildings today. Both company's products will be available in October.

Installing Gigabit Ethernet has until now been a relatively expensive solution because it required fiber-optic wires, which can push the cost up to $1,200 to $1,500 per Gigabit Ethernet port, said Eddie Hold, senior analyst at Current Analysis Inc. The cost per port for the connection over copper is $500 to $600, Hold said.

"The other benefit is a lot of companies don't have fiber or have very little fiber, so the market for Gigabit Ethernet has been limited," Hold said. He added that although the government uses a lot of fiber, it is not typically wired to the desktop or the nearest switch, so having a chance to connect over existing copper removes a barrier to the latest technology.

Foundry's new switches are extensions to its FastIron II line, said Marshall Eisenberg, director of product marketing at Foundry.

The switches include hot-swappable modules and power supplies and are field upgradable to Layer 3 devices.

The FastIron II Plus GC switch offers up to 64 ports of copper-based Gigabit Ethernet and 96 million packets per second of nonblocking performance, Eisenberg said. Each of the eight slots supports eight 1000Base-T Gigabit Ethernet modules.

"What makes us different from everyone else is you can run all those ports as fast as they could possibly go," Eisenberg said.

Other vendors that provide Ethernet switches, including Cisco Systems Inc., Nortel Networks Inc. and Extreme Networks, are planning to announce copper-based Gigabit Ethernet switches in the coming months, Hold said.

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