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IBM becomes ironic victim of PC's success.

Ten years after introducing the PC, IBM has become a victim of the powerful forces unleashed by personal computing.

The computer giant's forced restructuring is an ironic reflection of the inroads the PC and its potent successors have made into the mainframe business, the core of IBM's monolithic strength.

Now Big Blue is about to introduce another long-awaited product. While it's nowhere near as significant as the PC, the product nonetheless says a lot about the "new" IBM and the forces shaping the second decade of personal computing.

The product is a multiprotocol router based on IBM's RISC/6000 chip set. Initially, it was scheduled for a December, 1991 debut, but now is expected in "early 1992." IBM watchers consider the router significant in at least three ways.

First, the product was pre-announced last August, breaking IBM's tradition of not talking about a product until it is formally introduced. The pre-announcement had the desired effect of stalling the market, as IBM customers delayed their router decisions while awaiting pricing and other product details.

IBM must be in tough shape if it needs to buy time with such a tactic.

Secondly, IBM officials have acknowledged that the router will provide Advanced Peer-to-Peer Networking (APPN) support for mainframes in 1992, and for RS/6000 workstations, servers and SNA 3270 terminals in 1993.

APPN capability on the router will let IBM SNA users route their LAN traffic independently of the front-end processor. It provides the peer-to-peer networking that users want, displacing the hierarchical, mainframe-centered approach that IBM pioneered and fought to preserve for many years.

Clearly IBM got the message and is changing with the times.

Finally, as a measure of IBM's diminished stature as an industry leader, the router is viewed by analysts as a "me too" product, a late entry in the new-product blitz that made 1991 the "year of the router."

Key to the second PC decade

Routers are key to building the interconnected networks needed for such applications.

What makes them attractive is their ability to integrate different LAN topologies, such as Ethernet and token-ring, with various wide area network facilities, such as public data networks and dedicated leased lines.

Further, routers segment a network into several logical subnets, which can be administered separately. This means the corporate MIS people can still manage the enterprise network, while giving autonomy to different departments.

Many large companies, in fact, have taken separate router-based campus LANs developed by individual departments, and interconnected them to form a corporate backbone network.

To handle the growing demands on routers, vendors have turned to multiple-processor designs and Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC) technology for added horsepower. They have also added support from emerging network services and media, such as frame relay and optical-fiber LANs.

Proteon uses a multiple-RISC design in its CNX 500 to route traffic among Ethernet, token-ring and FDDI networks at speeds to 25,000 packets per second. Introduced by the Westborough, Mass. firm last July, the router integrates IBM SNA, digital, Unix and PC LAN mixed-protocol environments and supports X.25 and frame relay services.

As applications and networks grow, routers are supporting larger populations of users and are becoming increasingly critical hubbing points, unable to tolerate downtime. To meet these demands, the latest models provide fault tolerance and "hot swap" features and support highbandwidth backplanes at speeds to 1 Gb/s.

3Com's Netbuilder II, introduced last September, combines RISC and custom ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) technology with a 900-Mb/s bus for high throughput and reliability. The

Also in September, Bedford, Mass.-based Wellfleet communications introduced a multiprotocol router, called the Backbone Node, with hot swap and dynamic reconfiguration capabilities. For redundancy, the Backbone Node uses four independent 250-Mb/s buses. Each routing engine connects to all four paths.

Meanwhile, industry leader Cisco Systems of Menlo Park, Calif., has broken new ground by developing a router card for file servers under a technology agreement with NCR. Compared with a stand-alone router, a file server equipped with the card will provide the same capabilities in a smaller and cheaper package, and reduce network bottlenecks by localizing routing functions.

IBM, welcome to the second decade of personal computing.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Netcomm Update; pre-announcement for the IBM RISC/6000-based router implies IBM's desperation
Author:Edwards, Morris
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Previous Article:Let's get personal: portable uses abound for personal networks.
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