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Prices drop for intelligent network hubs.

In little more than three years, intelligent wiring hubs have become a key networking component. They allow users to cope with diverse LAN media, such as shielded and unshielded twisted pair, coax and optical fiber, and to integrate various access technologies including Ethernet, four and 16 Mb/s token ring and FDDI.

At the same time, the hubs provide centralized network management and the means for orderly network expansion.

However, such capabilities come at a price, and until now only larger organizations have been able to justify the cost. That situation is about to change as new suppliers enter the arena, expanding user options and forcing down prices.

Even major players such as IMB, Digital Equipment and Hewlett-Packard are getting into the act. Attracted by the popularity and growth of intelligent wiring hubs, they recently introduced their own models while continuing to re-sell hub products from specialized vendors such as SynOptics and Cabletron.

Perhaps more significant, the leading LAN vendor, Novell Inc. of Provo, Utah, proposed a standard hub management architecture that would convert NetWare servers into intelligent wiring centers. The centers would provide full management capabilities at a fraction of the cost of existing smart hubs.

Even before the Novell announcement, the per port costs of intelligent hubs had been falling as vendors targeted smaller LAN users with less-functional

models. Typically, these low-end hubs support fewer ports and types of media and have more limited management features.

Novell's architecture is expected to reduce the cost per port even further by standardizing hub cards and creating a commodity market.

By adding hubs to the server, users will bring greater order and accessibility to the physical wiring when configuration changes and repairs need to be made.

Network management will also be enhanced. Novell's architecture allows hub vendors to gather management information from a hub and pass it to Novell's supplied utility, HubCon or to a third-party SNMP station. Most hub vendors have already announced support for Novell's architecture, and computer vendors such as Compaq and AST Research are seeking compatibility certification between their servers and Novell's standard.

Network management features are a principle motivation for users to migrate to intelligent hubs. A recent survey of 50 Fortune 1000 companies by Forrester Research Inc. revealed that users expect 75% of the hub purchases to be managed, intelligent versions.

The Cambridge, Mass., market research firm found that users wanted the ability to isolate faults automatically, configure LANs remotely and manage the entire network from a single console.

Accomodating growth

As vendors work to make intelligent hubs more affordable for smaller LAN users, they are also seeking ways to boost the hubs' capabilities in anticipation of ever-larger LANs and growing numbers of users per LAN segment.

One approach is for vendors to join forces and pool resources, 3Com Corp., Santa Clara, Calif., and Synernetics Inc., Billerica, Mass., agreed to integrate technologies to broaden product families and enhance intelligent hub architectures.

Initially, 3com will incorporate Synernetics' LANplex 5000 architecture into its new LinkBuilder 3 GH third-generation structured wiring hub. Synernetics will OEM 3Com's high-performance, RISC-based NETBuilder II internetworking system. Both firms will develop plug-in modules for the common LANplex 5000/LinkBuilder 3GH platform.

In another venture, leading intelligent hub vendor SynOptics Communications Inc., Santa Clara, joined forces with Cisco Systems Inc. of Menlo Park, Calif., the leading supplier of bridges, routers and other internetworking products. Their joint development effort, know as RubSystem, will integrate the firms' router and intelligent hub technology with a single management architecture capable of handling super networks of 40,000 to 50,000 users.

First, the alliance will deliver jointly developed network management applications that will allows the current hub and router products from both companies to be managed in a more tightly integrated fashion. Second, they will produce a next-generation integrated routing hub.

Finally, the hub will be tied into a single management architecture based on the SunNet manager from SunConnect, a long-term development partner of SynOptics. When complete, RubSystem will allow users to manage and administer networks significantly larger and more complex than today's.

Intelligent hubs, it seems, are destined for more and greater starring roles in tommorrow's networks.

Data communications consultant Morris Edwards serves as program advisor to the Network Computing Solutions Conference and Exposition, or NetCom, which will be held at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, Calif., April 22-23.
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Title Annotation:Netcomm Update
Author:Edwards, Morris
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:Column
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Words:722
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