Network Infrastructure Product of the Year 2001

By Lynn Haber

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The business imperative for electronic communication, both inside and outside of the corporate walls, with business customers and partners, continues to drive network managers to find the best building blocks for network infrastructure.

It's no surprise, then, that in the Product of the Year 2001 category of Network Infrastructure, readers rallied around a handful of key vendors, distributing their 189 votes relatively evenly. In fact, it was a photo-finish to the end.

San Jose, Calif.-based Brocade Communications Systems Inc., won in the Network Infrastructure Product of the Year category for its Brocade Silkworm 3800 Enterprise Fabric Switch with 41 votes, or 22%, just a nose ahead of its closest competitor.

Garnering 21% of the ballots, just two votes behind Brocade, was second-place finisher Extreme Network Inc., Santa Clara, Calif., with its Summit 7i stackable switch. Together, Brocade and Extreme, tied up 43% of all votes, leaving the four remaining California-based competitors in the Network Infrastructure category to divvy up the rest.

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Server Hardware Product of the Year 2001

Security Product of the Year 2001

Client Systems -- Desktop Product of the Year 2001

Client Systems - Mobile Product of the Year 2001

Network & Systems Software Product of the Year 2001

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The full list of winners

InfraTools Network Discovery 4.0 from Peregrine Systems Inc., got a respectable 16% of the vote, or 31 votes, to finish in third place. Readers made it clear that, other than allowing the first- and second-place finishers to pull away from the pack by six and five percentage points, respectively, they thought quite highly of all of the remaining category products, with voting between them only separated by a few percentage points.

The CloudSheild Pocket Processor from CloudShield Technologies Inc., San Jose, Calif., and PathControl from RouteScience Technologies Inc., San Mateo, Calif., each got 14% of the votes. And trailing with 13% of the votes, Vernier Networks System from Vernier Networks Inc., secured the last-place spot.

Industry watchers at Meta Group, Stamford, Conn., say that the network infrastructure category products took a broad sweep across the infrastructure, but that the top two finishers represent solid, reliable and well-priced products.

Rob Schafer, program director for enterprise data center strategies at Meta, says that Brocade's Silkworm 3800 Enterprise Fabric Switch, is currently the one to beat. "The Silkworm 3800 is a workhorse product and has a lot of reliability for a small switch," he says.

Brocade was, reportedly, one of the first vendors to market with a small Fibre Channel switch. The company describes the SilkWorm 3800 as a 16-port, auto-sensing switch for Storage Area Networks (SANs) that combines 1Gbit/sec and 2Gbit/sec Fiber Channel throughput for increased performance and functionality.

Michael Wojtowicz, manager of systems and engineering at Entertainment Partners, a Burbank, Calif.-based provider of management services in the entertainment industry, says his company purchased four 3800 switches from Brocade because of previous experience with the company's products.

"We were moving to a completely new storage environment and, I had confidence in Brocade. I was worried about compatibility and interoperability issues if I switched vendors," he says.

Entertainment Partners previously used a Brocade Silkworm 1000 switch in a direct-attached storage environment. The company recently transitioned to the Sun StorEdge 9900 series with the Brocade 3800 switch for its enterprise SAN.

In the shadow of router and switch vendor heavyweights, such as Cisco Systems Inc., 3Com Corp., and Cabletron Systems Inc., Extreme Networks is still recognized as a startup. However, says Chris Kozup, senior research analyst at Meta Group, Extreme has managed to maintain its foothold in the enterprise marketplace. "The company is broadening its portfolio of products and is expanding its branch office portfolio," he says.

Voters had a choice of the following nominees:
Brocade Silkworm 3800 Enterprise Fabric Switch
Brocade Communications Systems Inc.

CloudShield Packet Processor
CloudShield Technologies Inc.

RouteScience Technologies Inc.

Summit 7i
Extreme Networks

Vernier Networks System
Vernier Networks

InfraTools Network Discovery 4.0
Peregrine Systems Inc.

A fixed-configuration platform, the Summit7i is a stackable 32-port Gigabit Ethernet switch, which according to Kozup, is competitively priced and robust. "Also to its benefit, it fits into multiple environments -- the core network in both large and small enterprises or as a metropolitan access type of product," he says.

Mehran Hadipour, director of strategy and business development at Zambeel Inc., a developer of network storage subsystems, in Fremont, Calif., says he chose to resell the Summit7i as part of Zambeel's product because the company was looking for a best of breed switch.

"We chose it for cost, scalability and because it gave us the basic functionality that we needed at a reasonable price," says Hadipour. The company's network storage subsystem product is currently in beta, with general availability slated for sometime in the Spring.

As Kozup looks ahead for 2002, he expects to see vendors push heavily in the area of 10Gbit Ethernet products. He also expects to see increased discussion of IEEE 802.1X standard for port based access control, which allows users to embed access control and authentication into the switch. "Network managers are looking for more security control," says Kozup.

Also in the area of wireless LANs, he expects products like Vernier's Networks System, to get more air play going forward because it provides WLAN managers a tool to facilitate management and security.

Lynn Haber reports on IT and business technology issues from Norwell, Mass. She can be reached at lthaber@mediaone.net.