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Switch line offer Fast Ethernet today, GigE tomorrow

Alcatel's new Fast Ethernet switches, which morph from Fast Ethernet to Gigabit Ethernet, allow businesses to prepare -- but not pay -- for tomorrow's speeds today.

A new series of Fast Ethernet workgroup switches can morph into Gigabit Ethernet switches, promising an easier upgrade when an organization is ready for GigE's speed and price tag.

Networking vendor Alcatel today announced its family of OmniSwitch 6800L stackable Layer 3 switches, which feature advanced Fast Ethernet services and optional 10 GigE backbone uplink capabilities.

The 6800L switches, available in 24-port and 48-port versions, include security features such as dynamic virtual LAN support that can automatically authenticate users and devices, and quarantine those that don't meet the company's security policies.

Brian Witt, director of product marketing for Paris-based Alcatel, said the switches include four combination copper or fiber Gigabit Ethernet ports for backbone connections. Up to eight switches can be stacked, for a total capacity of 384 ports using a 40 gigabit stacking bus.

An optional 10-gigabit daughter card is also available for the 48-port switch. Witt said users can purchase a software license to enable the remaining ports for Gigabit to the desktop.

"These switches give a business the flexibility to upgrade its infrastructure to take advantage of advanced security and quality-of-service features, but postpone the purchase of Gigabit capabilities," Witt said. "They can purchase the 10/100 switches now and migrate over to 10/100/1000 later."

Brian Helman, director of IT networking at Salem State University, said the primary selling point for the Salem, Mass.-based college was the 6800L's port-speed scalability via software upgrade, which is an attractive alternative to an expensive forklift upgrade.

Additionally, Helman said he evaluated Cisco Systems Inc., Extreme Networks Inc., Foundry Networks Inc., Nortel Networks Corp. and Enterasys Networks Inc. but found Alcatel's price, performance and feature ratios to be the best.

Matthias Machowinski, directing analyst for enterprise voice and data at San Jose, Calif.-based Infonetics Research Inc., said Salem State's need for scalability and cost-efficiency is shared across the marketplace.

"In a study on router purchases, we found that there was a preference among buyers for products that have a lower entry price, and with a limited set of features, but are upgradeable," Machowinski said. "This model expands on that preference."

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Machowinski said Fast Ethernet is still out-shipping GigE on a per-port basis and will continue to be sufficient for the needs of many organizations for years to come. However, organizations are beginning to use more applications on the LAN, such as IP telephony, video, etc., and now have a more pressing need for these products.

Machowinski said GigE demand is strong. In fact, Machowinski said, Infonetics research found GigE port shipments were up 157% in last year and predicts an average annual growth of 16% this year.

According to new data from Redwood City, Calif.-based research firm Dell'Oro Group, in the fourth quarter of last year, companies purchased 3.4 million Gigabit Ethernet (1,000 Mbps) ports versus approximately 3.1 million Fast Ethernet (100 Mbps) ports for modular Ethernet LAN switches.

Machowinski said GigE becomes more attractive as the price gap per port between Fast Ethernet and Gigabit continues to narrow.

Both available this month, the OmniSwitch 6800-24L carries a list price of $3,295, while the 6800-48L is priced at $4,795. The Gigabit Ethernet upgrade key is priced at $2,395 for the 24-port switch and $3,395 for the 48-port switch.

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