Network users are demanding LANs and WANs that are faster than before, less complex and, of course, cheaper. Fast Ethernet and 100VG are increasing in popularity as routes to a speedier network with higher bandwidth. Another option for a more efficient network is the Ethernet switch, which works by facilitating network access while doing away with the need for routers and hubs. Switching is not necessarily the answer to every network problem and if workgroup access to a server is to be speeded up, a switch with a fast uplink such as the ones reviewed here is necessary. Switches are most useful on multiserver LANs, especially those with WAN or Internet connections.
Users will certainly care about future-proofing their network. Some switches have ATM links which should preserve the user's investment for longer. We look here at five different Ethernet switches and find that they differ considerably in build quality and ease of use. Switches divide into what one might regard as workgroup products, in other words products designed to suit a small number of nodes, and those suited to wider and grander applications. The distinction is not especially significant when one considers that even the 'smallest' switch reviewed in this month's VNU European Labs report can theoretically handle more than 1,000 nodes.
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