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Combining ATM and IP is not just for large network and backbone providers anymore. ATM/IP feature hed: The future Internet dek: the de facto standard known as Internet Protocol (IP) is showing signs of age. what are network providers doing to bring IP up to speed? dek: combining ATM and IP is not just for large network and backbone providers anymore. by Maggie Biggs

When people think of the underlying communication vehicle that lobs all those bits and bytes across the Internet, thoughts most often turn to Internet Protocol (IP). The IP standard has become the de facto means of getting mail to Mom, paying the bills, and, for many businesses, growing revenue.

In large part, IP became an Internet mainstay because it is easy to implement. But as the wired and wireless Internet grows, IP is showing signs of stress and aging. In particular, businesses need to be concerned about the limitations found in the current version of IP (version 4, or v4) which is getting close to its limit in terms of scalability while improvements are needed in its speed, reliability, and security attributes.

According to Massimo Prati, general manager of San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems’ Metropolitan Services Business Unit, “IP still lags behind other protocols, such as ATM, in some very crucial areas, including security and providing Quality of Service (QoS) functionality. Increasingly, business traffic that traverses the public network is made up of data, voice, and video. Other protocols like ATM are still most ideal for reliably servicing this combination of traffic though IP is making progress.”

Without action on the part of network providers and end-users such as businesses, the Internet may well outgrow IPv4 in the near future. But there is no cause to panic. As network providers are quick to note, there are other options to consider.

Network engineers are going after different approaches to solving the limitations of IPv4. The long-term solution appears to be a migration (by network providers and by businesses) to IPv6 (version 6)–the next generation version of the IP protocol. Many networks today are already running both IPv4 and IPv6, but the vast majority of businesses do not yet see the rationale for moving to IPv6. The most publicized reason for adopting IPv6 surrounds IPv4’s addressing limitations.

The fact is that IPv4 can only support so many IP addresses. Moving to IPv6 will greatly expand the number of unique addresses available to wired and wireless devices. As we increase the number of network-connected devices and appliances (cell phones, PDAs), we’ll eventually run out of addresses if we don’t do something.

Businesses and consumers see little direct benefit from moving to IPv6 just to gain more IP addresses. But there are more clear-cut reasons to move to IPv6 aside from expanding the number of IP addresses. The newer version of IP offers advances in security, more reliable connections, and speed gains over IPv4. These things bear consideration as we move more data, voice traffic, video, and audio content around the Internet. Visit www.ipv6.org for more information on IPv6.

Industry analysts predict that we will move to IPv6, though it will take some time. The IPv4 and IPv6 protocols are expected to co-exist for several years before we fully adopt IPv6. So what can be done now to bolster things like security, reliability, and speed until IPv6 is widely implemented?

An oldie but a goodie

It has been often said that if you leave clothes in your closet long enough they will come back into vogue eventually. The same thing can be said for the IP world. When it comes to bolstering IPv4 shortcomings in the near term, engineers have reached back in time and pulled out a more mature protocol–Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM)–that was the protocol leader some years ago.

ATM is fast and secure, and it already sports reliability features that IP is still trying to gain today. On the flip side, ATM has proven difficult to implement in the past and complex to administer, especially when compared to IP. According to Brian Carpenter, distinguished engineer of Internet standards and technology at White Plains, N.Y.-based IBM Corp., “ATM is a mature technology that is ideal for constructing high-speed networks, but its costs and complexity have made it more ideal for network providers than network administrators in corporate settings.”

Eitan Schwartz, vice president and general manager of TDMoIP technologies for Mahwah, N.J.-based RAD Data Communications Inc., adds, “ATM provides strong Quality of Service (QoS) measures that can be used to guarantee transport delivery for mission-critical applications. In addition, ATM is useful since it supports legacy uses, such as Time Division Multiplexing, as well as voice traffic.”

But ATM has problems talking to the bulk of current applications, which limits its scope. Richard April, director of corporate marketing for Boston-based Quarry Technologies, says, “Applications need to be constructed to be aware of ATM networking, and most applications today are written to take advantage of IP since that is easier for most developers and because IP is more universally used.”

By focusing on the best attributes of ATM and IP, engineers began to realize that they could combine the two protocols into hybrid solutions that would couple easy implementation and administration with improved speeds, better support for mixed types of traffic (data, voice, video), better security measures, and more reliable communication.

Today, large corporate settings and network providers that need to support reliable long-range connectivity over the public network backbone use ATM. “IP is rather weak at providing guaranteed end-to-end service,” says Jay Fausch, senior director of marketing for Alcatel USA, based in Plano, Texas. “We use ATM on the backbone of our DSL network and combine it with IP to provide secure, guaranteed end-to-end service. Combining the two protocols works well for us and for our customers.”

Back to the future

Combining ATM and IP is not just for large network and backbone providers anymore. Networking vendors are joining the two protocols into new hybrid solutions that businesses can use to improve communications. For example, Cisco’s Prati focuses on supplying integrated support for both ATM and Gigabit Ethernet via the company’s Catalyst 8500 switch. “The Catalyst 8500 is very useful because it seamlessly bridges ATM and IP networking while substantially increasing reliability,” he says.

Today, support for blending ATM and IP is expanding beyond the realm of network hardware providers, too. Server vendors are beginning to realize that supporting both protocols at the server level will also help business improve communication techniques.

Likewise, suppliers of operating systems are adding support for hybrid networking, as are vendors who provide access devices for the SOHO market. In addition, many of these same vendors are integrating support for IPv6 so that businesses can begin to migrate to it over time while preserving their current hardware and software investments.

For example, IBM now supports hybrid networking to the server to increase application reliability. IBM’s Carpenter believes reliable transport is very important to future business applications. He says, “IBM’s zSeries server supports a wide variety of connectivity including ATM support directly to the server. Gigabit Ethernet support is also expected shortly. Mission-critical business applications demand that we support reliable transport mechanisms from end to end.”

Alcatel is applying ATM and IP combinations in DSL-related products to help distributed companies and SOHO users get the most out of DSL. The company’s 7300 ASAM product helps manage subscriber data and traffic while supplying ATM aggregation at the edge of the public network. In addition, the company is pushing ahead with useful additions, such as voice- and video-over DSL, that take advantage of ATM and IP.

Meanwhile, RAD Data Communications provides flexible and reliable access options. RAD’s Schwartz notes that his company is experiencing significant growth in the ATM access arena. “Our ACE line of access devices supports ATM traffic, but also offers customers support for IP, Time Division Multiplexing, Ethernet, and other types of network traffic that may be needed to support a wide variety of applications, including voice and video.

Executives at Quarry Technologies are also helping companies and providers prepare for more reliable transport requirements via their firm’s iQ-series of IP switches. Quarry’s April notes, “Our iQ-series of switches easily integrate with existing company and network provider infrastructures. We support not only IP, but other technologies including ATM, Ethernet, frame relay, and so on.”

Taking action

Clearly, long-term networking plans for most businesses dictate a move to IPv6. In the meantime, hybrid networking solutions that combine ATM and IP are a good intermediate step to improve the speed, reliability, and security of business communications until IPv6 is widely implemented.

Businesses can begin to take some action now to improve their communication strategies by examining networking options available in their operating systems.

If you’re running one of several Linux distributions that support IPv6, you might begin to run IPv6 together with IPv4 so you can begin to migrate to the new version of the networking protocol over time.

Additionally, this is a good time to examine servers, networking routing devices, and access devices to see if a move to a hybrid solution is warranted. If you need to improve speed, reliability, and security, a shorter-term strategy that includes the use of hybrid networking technologies may well be warranted.

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