Networking's greatest debates in LANS + WANS

Including IPv4 vs. IPv6, routing vs. switching, Packet switching vs. circuit switching, Ethernet vs. Token Ring, and Cisco vs. the rest,

Frame relay vs. VPNs

VPNs burst on the scene in the late 1990s as a way to use the Internet securely and cheaply as the backbone for corporate WANs.

The downside was that the Internet was unreliable and insecure, but the Internet proved reliable enough for most data purposes, and security in the form of IPSec locked down connections between sites.

Frame relay didn't have either problem. As frame relay provider networks matured, they were adequately provisioned so bandwidth paid for was bandwidth delivered. As a Layer 2 switched technology, most customers felt that it was inherently secure and if businesses were worried, they could tack on their own encryption.

With the rise of MPLS, a new form of VPN came into being. Rather than installing VPN gateways at each corporate site to create encrypted tunnels to other sites, MPLS required just a router connection to the provider access line. The service provider would route traffic to any other corporate sites similarly connected to the network.

In the world of frame relay, such meshing of connections so all sites could connect to all other sites required setting up virtual circuits, the division of access lines into logical links to other sites. The result is similar to having MPLS route traffic among all sites, but MPLS doesn't require virtual circuits - a significant cost savings that customers couldn't ignore.

"Having any-to-any connectivity was a very big driver for us," Catherine Watterson, vice president of enterprise engineering services at Policy Studies told Network World in 2005, when her company was in the midst of moving from frame relay. "We wanted to simplify our network in comparison to what we had with frame relay, where everything came in to our headquarters location. We also were interested in lowering our costs."

With IPSec and MPLS teaming up to provide functionally similar and less costly service, frame relay lost its edge and is gradually being replaced by one or the other.
Tim Greene

Ethernet vs. Token Ring

It was the classical IBM vs. Digital Equipment battle taken to the network theatre.

Two computing behemoths each lining up behind competing LAN architectures: IBM advocating Token-Ring and DEC endorsing Ethernet.

Pioneered by IBM scientist Olof Soderblom in the 1960s, Token-Ring was initially successful for IBM -- as most IBM-endorsed technologies are. But beyond IBM, it never garnered much support among top-tier vendors, which gravitated toward Ethernet, the preferred LAN technology of research institutions and manufacturing companies.

Token-Ring began its downward spiral soon after the emergence of 10Base-T Ethernet, an inexpensive, 10Mbps transmission technology than ran across telephone grade unshielded twisted-pair copper media. Matters were not helped when Soderblom began demanding royalties from the few Token-Ring vendors and chip makers, driving prices higher.

And then, Cisco, citing lack of market demand, dropped out of an effort to develop the 100Mbps High-Speed Token-Ring (HSTR) in 1998, a move that essentially scuttled that initiative.

"Cisco is attempting to torpedo multivendor, industry-standard HSTR efforts and promote, instead, the Cisco proprietary technology," said Kevin Tolly, president of The Tolly Group, a catalyst behind the formation of the HSTR alliance and a Network World columnist.

Today, Token-Ring is barely detectable in the market as businesses have opted for switched Ethernet in the LAN. Ethernet has even spread into the WAN as telecom carriers now offer Ethernet services on a local, metropolitan area, regional and national basis.
Jim Duffy

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