Resellers need to refocus their thinking on switching technology rather than routers as switches move more into the networking scene, according to leading suppliers of networking technology. All major vendors now agree that switches will take over from routers in all but the smallest networks.
Understanding the difference between switching and router technology is the key to planning a strategic view of networking. "Routers can be likened to a post office," explained Paul Kangro, IBM Australia's marketing manager for networking. "Each message is delivered, the address is read and then the post office decides which is the best route on which to send it to get to the destination.
"Switches are more like the telephone exchange," continued Kangro. "Once the link is established between the source of the call and the destination the switch keeps the link between the two."
The difference in speed between routers and switches can also be likened to the difference in speed between the mail system and the phone system - well almost.
Driving the move to switches has been their tumbling cost compared with the relatively static cost of routers. Last year, figures supplied by Cisco Systems suggested the price per port for a switched Ethernet port was now lower than that for a hubbed port.
Mike Bell, network technology manager for Digital, said the problem facing routers was that they had not kept pace with the increasing price/performance of PCs.
"PC performance has gone up and the price has come down," he said. "With routers, performance has gone up but so has price," said Bell.
Holding back routers is a problem with inherent latency times. "It means that in trying to scale up routers, you also increase the latency," said Bell. "Switches remove the problem of aggregate latency, so that means they can be scaled up more easily," he said.
Bell feels latency is becoming more of an issue with the increasing move to client/server computing. "Client/server can be very chatty over a network," said Bell. "A single keystroke can generate more than 10 packets over the network and each packet can take milliseconds to process through a router. "Switches can keep up with that sort of traffic," he said. But Bell said that routers would remain the preferred option for LANs in small offices. "I don't see switches being scaled down to suit remote or branch offices," he said.
With the move to multimedia, there is even more reason to move to switching, according to Cisco Systems. Jayshree Ullal, the company's vice- president of marketing for its workgroup business unit, said increasing demand for bandwidth and throughput in workgroups is driving the move to switching from routing. "Fuelling that demand is the increasing power of desktop processors, the expanding size of data files and the looming move to multimedia applications."
Ullal believes that routers are more likely to move out from LANs to WANs. "They will also continue to be used in small offices such as branch locations," she said.
But just as essential as keeping up with the technology is a need for resellers to adopt a strategic view of networking. This would ensure they are not suddenly confronted with such development as the move to switching technology.
Steve McRae, spokesperson for ATM specialist company Fore Systems, believes the lack of strategic planning comes from the piecemeal approach to networking taken by many end-user organisations. "A lot of end-user organisations have been doing what I call a drip-feed approach to networking," said McRae.
"For example, they put in Ethernet and then have to upgrade to Fast Ethernet, then they have to re-engineer the whole network to be capable of handling ATM," he said.
"It's up to the resellers and system integrators to get the end user to plan for the future rather than just handling the present," McRae said. One of the core competencies of Fore Systems is ATM technology.
IBM's Kangro said resellers also need to look at solutions that interoperate with as many vendors as possible. "It's important that in developing a strategic plan, that resellers don't lock the customer into a proprietary solution," he said.
Cisco's Ullal agreed that resellers need to work closer with both vendors and users in planning networks. "We are putting a lot of effort into developing our channel," she said. "Resellers are the key to the moves in networking technology."
Australian LAN/WAN switching market analysis($USmillion) Sales value Sales value Sales value 1995 1996 1997LAN switches 30.3 66.9 93.7WAN switches/gateways 93.7 80.6 70.9Total 124.0 147.5 164.6Source: East Consulting, a Gartner Group business