In a move aimed at unifying factory-floor networks with the ones in corporate back offices, Cisco Systems Inc. last month unveiled a ruggedized line of switches based on IP and Ethernet. The Catalyst 2955 series is designed for use in factories and in utility, transportation and military settings, where temperatures, humidity, dust and vibrations are more extreme than they are in regular business environments, Cisco officials said. The devices are shipping now and are priced from US$2,100 to US$3,600. The 2955 series introduces the first rugged Ethernet switches developed by a major networking equipment vendor, said Harry Forbes, an analyst at ARC Advisory Group Inc. in Dedham, Mass.

Scaling the scanner heap

Alps Electric Co. Ltd. and Casio Computer Co. Ltd. have developed a small fingerprint scanner built into a short, thin cylinder for use in cellular telephones and other portable devices. The cylinder, six millimetres in diameter and 15 millimetres long, contains a sensor, light and lens. When users roll their fingers over the device, it can produce an eight-level monochrome fingerprint image at 600 dots per inch resolution, the two companies said in a joint statement. Hewlett-Packard Co. became the first manufacturer to add biometric identity checking to a mass-market consumer portable electronics device last year, when it built a small fingerprint scanner into its iPaq H5450 PDQ (personal digital assistant).

IBM bolsters low-end server

IBM Corp. has pepped up the low-end server in its Unix line with the addition of one of the latest Power4 processors. IBM will start shipping the p630 server with a 1.45-GHz Power4+ immediately. The new chip is more powerful than the older, standard Power4 chip, which still sits in the high-end pSeries systems. The p630 is one of the pSeries systems that IBM offers with both of its own AIX version of Unix and the Linux operating system. Users can run Linux as the main operating system or in a partition on AIX. The system starts at US$19,025.