3Com Corp has been expanding on its plans for cheap boundary routers and says that the first solid products will be announced this month. Boundary routing, first described by 3Com’s chief technical office John Hart in April (CI No 1,900), is a technique designed to produce low-cost, highly simplified routers that will enable organisations to […]
3Com Corp has been expanding on its plans for cheap boundary routers and says that the first solid products will be announced this month. Boundary routing, first described by 3Com’s chief technical office John Hart in April (CI No 1,900), is a technique designed to produce low-cost, highly simplified routers that will enable organisations to connect branch offices to the central network without a consequent increase in the number of support staff needed. Conceptually the idea is simple. If it is assumed that the branch office local network will only ever need to connect one place – namely its closest backbone router, then 3Com argues that a standard router is overkill for a very simple job. The company’s answer involves stripping out much of the router’s intelligence, all that is left is the part that decides whether a particular packet is local to the branch office or needs to be sent to the backbone network; gone are the parts that have knowledge of how to route particular protocols. Sounds like a bridge? To be frank the 3Com approach could be simply emulated by using a bridge at the branch office and putting a bridge-router at the backbone node so that incoming packets can be bridged in and then routed out onto the backbone. But 3Com argues that even a bridge is really too complex and expensive for the job. It likes to characterise the boundary router not as a separate network device as much as the local network interface from the backbone router which has been stretched across the wide area link so that it sits in the branch office. The novelty of this approach, is the ease with which new sites can be added to the network – boundary routers will be easier to set up than even simple bridges says Nigel Oakely, 3Com’s UK product marketing manager. Though the company was not announcing products or prices Oakley says that it is plausible that boundary routers will cost half the price of their more conventional breathren. That would make the devices marginally cheaper than a low end bridge. Despite this, the company is not particularly pushing the cost angle and instead, 3Com’s aim is to sell the new devices on their simplicity. Enter the Complexity Crisis, last year’s report commissioned by the company which showed network managers being overwhelmed by the growth of their charges. Combine this with IDC figures showing that worldwide 2m local networks have yet to be connected to backbones and a Forrester Research forecast showing a 400% growth in remote office local network interconnect in the US from 1991 to 1995 and you have 3Com’s sales pitch. In many cases says a company background document, existing networks can reach five to 10 times as many locations without adding support resources, complexity or risk. The company hopes to achieve this by making installation a question of connecting cables; insert a disk and switching on. The first phase of product roll-out is set for the first half, and will include boxes with leased line and dial support (including the ability to control ISDN terminal adaptors). On the local net side there will be support for both Token Ring and Ethernet. 3Com is also hoping to make the boundary router a standard and will be submitting its work to the Internet Engineering Task Force – but not until September, by which time it will have the first phase behind it and will be embarking on the second phase – more wide area network options and better configuration tools.