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What If Ethernet Did Not Exist?


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October 15, 2012

What If Ethernet Did Not Exist?

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

They make movies about what would have happened if the South had won the Civil War. While maybe not quite as important, and definitely not the subject of a motion picture, another interesting what-if scenario is how the networking industry would be different if Ethernet had not emerged as the de facto standard.

Network World (News - Alert) asked just such a question recently, and the consensus was that networking would be a whole lot slower and more complicated if there was no Ethernet.

“There'd be more outages, and perhaps our expectations on service levels would be lower,” suggested Zeus Kerravala (News - Alert) of ZK Research in the Network World piece.

"We would have gone through a much longer period of proprietary networks," added Jon Oltsik, principal analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (News - Alert). "The goodness of IP, including the Internet, wouldn't have happened as quickly."

The complexity definitely would be higher for networking. Each segment of the network likely would have its own technology. Token Ring might dominate the local area network. FDDI might have taken over the metro area, and ATM and frame relay could have perhaps proliferated throughout the WAN, which is what it was doing before Ethernet displaced it.

"We'd have a mesh of different networks across geographies. We'd need an army of engineers and support people to run the network," said Rohit Mehra, an analyst for IDC, in the Network World piece. Systems integrators would have 10 times the business, he predicted.

With different technologies dominating different parts of the network, end-to-end service would have probably taken a hit. Gateways and bridges between such disparate technologies would increase latency and both capital and operating expenses.

Distributed computing and client/server computing might never even have come about.

"There'd be no client/server, Microsoft would have had its own protocol, and Novell's IPX would still be around," suggested Oltsik.

IBM might have been the networking giant, too, not Cisco (News - Alert).

If token ring had won out over LAN, Cisco wouldn’t have had the opportunity to ride the standards wave that came with Ethernet. IBM dominated token ring due to its advocacy of the technology, so no Ethernet could have kept IBM’s (News - Alert) networking business dominant.

"IBM would have doubled in size because it would have controlled another standard," said Oltsik. “They and everyone else would have been in IBM's shadow."

Wi-Fi might not have happened as it did, either.

"Wi-Fi is an easier overlay over Ethernet than over disparate, incongruous networks," said IDC’s Mehra. He said that he didn’t think that Wi-Fi would have been as pervasive had Ethernet not become the standard.

Thankfully, though, Ethernet did become the standard. And the North won the Civil War, so that just leaves the question of what would have happened if Abraham Lincoln had been a vampire hunter.

Oh, wait. That has been made into a movie, too.

Edited by Rich Steeves

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