Proposed CIF could allow ATM for Ethernet

Proposed CIF could allow ATM for Ethernet

Users could run native ATM applications on existing switched Ethernet networks with a new technology called Cells in Frames (CIF).

At a meeting on April 12, an informal consortium that included IBM, Agile Networks, StrataCom, and Whitetree Network Technolo-gies moved closer to agreement on an industry standard for the technology, which involves packing ATM cells into the frames used for Ethernet transmissions.

CIF promises to let users transmit data, voice, and video in ATM cells, with ATM control capabilities such as quality of service, over existing networks without investing in new adaptor cards for end-stations. Only driver software and a low-cost upgrade to switches would be required.

Cisco Systems, 3Com, Fore Systems, and Microsoft have also attended meetings to discuss the technology.

CIF is being developed at Cornell University, in New York, by Texas-based Connectware and the university's computer service. Cornell proposed the idea as a way to expand its telephone network without making a huge investment in PBX hardware.

The system would require an Ethernet edge switch with an Ethernet-to-ATM converter and CIF capability built into an ASIC. End-users would simply add a layer of driver software to their existing network interface card driver.

Larry Roberts, president of ATM systems at Connectware, said the group hopes to reach agreement on the outlines of the technology at its next meeting, on May 10. When those are established, the vendors will consider creating a formal organisation called the Cells-in-Frames Alliance, and submit a proposed standard to either the IEEE or the ATM Forum for approval.

Ron Jeffries, principal analyst at Jeffries Research, in California, and publisher of the ATM User newsletter, was at the most recent meeting.

"If this works really well over 100Mbit/sec [Fast Ethernet], this isn't an alternative to ATM, this is ATM over a different physical layer," Jeffries said. "Everybody wants to bet on a winning horse. Right now this horse is just barely out of the gate."

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