Olicom migrates to Ethernet

The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool has a token-ring network and will likely keep that in place for a while.

“We still believe in token-ring — it’s doing the job for us,” said Scott Argue, network manager for the Regina, Sask.-based company.

But because of a thin-client project the Wheat Pool implemented recently, Argue said adding a new fast Ethernet network became necessary.

“We’re going to be hosting several hundred remote clients there and the bandwidth requirements could grow exponentially,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we could provide the bandwidth that’s required. The fast Ethernet gave us room to grow.”

According to Andrew Sage, Canada’s regional vice-president for Olicom Inc. in Toronto, The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool is exactly the type of customer for which Olicom’s new fast Ethernet migration product suite is made. It is a set of eight products, ranging from the access layer to the core of the network, aimed at allowing customers to easily migrate from token-ring to fast Ethernet.

The new suite is the third leg of Olicom’s ClearStep Migration Strategy — the first two being a migration strategy from token-ring to ATM, released 18 months ago, and then token-ring to Olicom’s high-speed token-ring, released last year. Olicom, traditionally a token-ring vendor, is taking the strategy that the desire for token-ring may not be around forever, so it has to evolve its products in order to stay in business for the long term. The hope is that with the migration strategy, Olicom will be able to retain old customers who move to Ethernet.

As Argue said, he would still like to keep the token-ring products in place at The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool as long as they are viable, “but as things change down the line and maybe token-ring isn’t as fully supported, we do know that we have a solid migration path and we can switch to Ethernet if we want to.”

He added that having both token-ring and Ethernet environments “gives us a chance to learn what [Ethernet] can do and prove that we can make the two coexist together.”

Right now, Argue is using some fast Ethernet switches as well as beta testing a fast Ethernet uplink for token-ring switches.

He said he chose to stick with Olicom rather than going with a traditional Ethernet vendor for manageability reasons.

“It fit into the management environment we already have in place to manage the token-ring switching and routing we have from them already,” he said. “It made it really clean to manage these devices in the same way we manage other things.”

The CrossFire 8730 Fast Ethernet Translation Switch is the “anchor” of the suite, according to Olicom. It is designed specifically for token-ring-to-Ethernet migration.

“[Olicom] gave it a capability to put it into a token-ring network and start migrating to Ethernet without having to buy an expensive bridge-router or translational bridge — all within this switch that has Ethernet and token-ring,” said analyst Ray Mota of the Aberdeen Group in Boston. “That, to me, is hot.”

The 8730 is now available and lists at US$12,995.

At the distribution layer there will also be the CrossFire 8720, a Layer 3 switch available in May, listing at US$7,360. In the core layer, there will be a backbone switch called the CrossFire 8810 available in May as well, for US$25,995.

At the access layer, there are several products. The Crossfire 8710 and 8711 fast Ethernet switches, available in April, list at US$1,995 and US$2,499, respectively. There is also the GoCard 2250, a 32-bit 10/100Mbps CardBus now available, at US$189. The RapidFire 2410, providing full-duplex gigabit Ethernet connectivity for high-bandwidth applications, will be available later in the spring for US$995. There is also a new dual-speed fast Ethernet hub, the RapidLAN 2800, now available for US$1,119, and a fast Ethernet PCI NIC, now available for US$107.

Aberdeen’s Mota said he thinks Olicom’s migration strategy is the best way to go. He said the company used to be too set on “religious wars” between token-ring and Ethernet, fighting for the cause of token-ring.

“But now they’ve seen the light and they’re saying, ‘We’re going to need to be in the Ethernet market,'” he said.

“What we plan to do is take what we’ve learned from building mission-critical token-ring networks and apply that to Ethernet networks,” Olicom’s Sage explained.

Mota said this strategy could work as long as Olicom builds its future Ethernet switches with the same mentality it used for its token-ring products, which have a fairly good reputation.

“I just hope they do spend the same time and energy as they spent on their token-ring products,” he said, “because if they come out with it too quickly, they’re going to get burned, because there’s some good Ethernet switches out there.”

Olicom Inc.’s Canadian head office in Toronto is at (416) 977-2400 or 1-800-265-4266.

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