ROI rules show floor

N+I attendees seek more bang for their buck over more bells and whistles.

Reaping maximum ROI, rather than sowing the most bits per second, was the overriding theme at last week's NetWorld+Interop, as attendees gravitated to products and services that could help cut costs.

LAS VEGAS - Reaping maximum ROI, rather than sowing the most bits per second, was the overriding theme at last week's NetWorld+Interop, as attendees gravitated to products and services that could help cut costs.


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With approximately 275 vendors and 20,000 attendees, the Las Vegas show was smaller than in years past. The show occupied less than half of last year's 320,000 square feet of convention hall space.

However, the show was not short on product announcements - from Cisco, Dell, Extreme Networks, Nortel and a slew of wireless vendors. But the mood at the show was different from the high-flying times of a few years ago, when "bigger," "faster" and "cooler" were the mantras of the day.

"The idea of technology for technology's sake isn't just on the back burner - it's off the stove," said Cisco CEO John Chambers during a keynote speech kicking off the show.

Meanwhile, Chambers said that investment in IT still is happening in large corporations, even as the economy drags down profits and stock prices. He also said that he expects an increase in IT spending from large companies, which have held off on new technology projects because of the economic slowdown and world events.

"What will drive [IT spending] are technologies that change business processes," Chambers said. "Companies will spend on IT in areas that increase productivity." Web-enabled applications, and secure and resilient network infrastructures to support them, will be among the specific drivers, he said.

Some enterprise network professionals at the show echoed this sentiment. While spending on new IT initiatives is slow overall, interest still exists in technology projects that can shake up expensive corporate cost structures - such as migrations from frame relay to VPNs, or TDM voice to voice over IP (VoIP).

"Because of budget issues, a lot of IT projects are on hold right now," said Kim Smith, IT team leader for LAN and e-commerce at Goodyear. Smith said new or cutting-edge technologies such as IP telephony, 10G Ethernet, wireless and others are being looked at throughout Goodyear's LAN and WAN infrastructures, which support 92,000 employees worldwide. But its cost-saving projects are getting the attention and funding.

Smith said that Goodyear recently outlined and budgeted to migrate its point-to-point frame relay WAN infrastructure to a complete VPN/Internet-based one in two-and-a-half years. "That project is now actually being accelerated," Smith says. "We're looking at implementing that now over a one-year time span because of the cost savings [of a VPN WAN]."

While Smith didn't outline hard numbers, he says the cost savings will be "extremely significant." For its VPN rollout, Smith said Goodyear is looking at vendors such as Enterasys - which it uses for Layer 2 and 3 LAN switching - and Cisco, which provides the firm's WAN routing infrastructure.

At an N+I session on IP telephony, another IT professional talked about VoIP as a driver for reducing enterprise costs.

"Our VoIP implementation was driven primarily as a cost-saving measure," said Dave Thompson, director of IT at Muzak, which produces and distributes elevator music, among other music products. Thompson described how he and his staff deployed IP PBX equipment from Shoreline Communications across 20 remote offices connected by T-1 lines to a Qwest managed VPN service. The result was a decrease in monthly phone charges from $70,000 to $49,000 per month across the entire company.

Product announcements roll on

While cutting costs was of prime interest, there were a variety of vendors offering new enterprise gear down on the show floor.

Of course there had to be some high-tech braggadocio at N+I, and Extreme obliged. The switch vendor launched its next-generation 10G Ethernet ASIC technology and showed its new LAN core chassis - code-named Mariner - that can support up to six nonblocking 10G Ethernet ports, or 60 Gigabit Ethernet ports, per module slot. Extreme's Fourth Generation Switching Silicon (4GNSS) ASIC technology will let users add features such as Multi-protocol Label Switching and IPv6 through software upgrades, but run those services at wire speed with hardware-like performance - as opposed to software-based switching and routing features, which are much slower, the company says. Mariner, which will be available in the fall, will succeed the company's BlackDiamond platform as a high-performance core switch, but Extreme says it will continue to develop and market the BlackDiamond as a high-density edge and core box.

Extreme says its new ASIC architecture also will lead to lower 10G Ethernet pricing, at about $8,000 per port, when the Mariner chassis and 4GNSS-based 10G Ethernet blades become available. Extreme says the new chassis will start at about $50,000.

Nortel launch

Nortel said at N+I that it would launch new remote-access management software and a faster Contivity VPN concentrator. The Contivity 5000, which was demonstrated at N+I and will be announced next week, can move 400M bit/sec of traffic using Triple-DES. This speed increase is more than double the previous high-end Contivity, which maxed out at 180M bit/sec of Triple-DES performance.

New Contivity 4.8 VPN management software also will be introduced next week and will let VPN administrators better control how clients access an enterprise network. The software goes a step beyond logon and password requirements by looking at how an end user's machine is configured. Administrators can disallow a connection depending on the presence of applications such as antivirus software or if a connecting machine is misconfigured.

Nortel executives also outlined an addition to the BayStack line of enterprise switches to be announced next week; it's called the BayStack 470-24T 10/100 desktop Layer 2 switch. It has 24 10/100M bit/sec Ethernet ports and two Gigabit Ethernet uplink ports, and as many as eight of the devices can be stacked to aggregate 192 ports and 16 uplinks. It also has quality-of-service features to support delay-sensitive traffic such as VoIP calls. The switch is scheduled to ship by the end of this month.

Also coming by the end of May will be BayStack Operating System Switching Software, a single software image to be used on the BayStack 470-48T, 470-24T, 460 24T-PWR and Business Policy Switch.

When the software image is loaded on a switch, it can recognize the characteristics of the switch and adapt to its particular requirements, according to Nortel. Providing one software image across a set of products is a trend taking place across Nortel, with future plans for other offerings such as a single image for all VoIP platforms, executives said.

Dell switches

Dell announced several switches aimed at helping small and midsize businesses cut the cost of building LANs without foregoing security or manageability. Introduced were the PowerConnect 5512, a 12-port 10/100/1000Base-T switch, and the PowerConnect 3324 and 3348 Fast Ethernet wiring closet switches. The new Gigabit switch is targeted at small LAN backbones and for connecting servers with Gigabit Ethernet. The 48-port and 24-port wiring closet switches are the first to support new stacking capabilities from Dell, which let up to 192 ports be managed as one device with a single IP address. The costs are $125 per port for Gigabit and $20 per 10/100 port.

Cisco unveiled a processor for its 7304 edge routers that handles more than 1 million packet/sec.

NPE-G100 Network Processing Engine supports 1G byte of synchronous dynamic RAM and 256M byte of Flash memory. It sports three onboard Ethernet/Fast Ethernet/Gigabit Ethernet ports.

The processor is designed to support Cisco IOS software features such as IPv6, multicast, Any Transport over MPLS, Virtual Routing and Forwarding-Select - which lets network operators provide the appearance of multiple network topologies on one interface - and network-based application recognition services. The 7304 router with the NPE-G100 will be available later this month for $22,000.

Network World Managing Editor Jim Duffy, Senior Editor John Cox and the IDG News Service contributed to this story.

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