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Harman Consumer Group's Marketing, Design and Production Center, which develops promotional materials for home and car audio giant Harman International, chose to implement a Fast Ethernet LAN using Asante Technologies' 100Base-T network adapters and AsanteFast 100TX stackable hubs. The publishing group, which uses an 'island' of Macintoshes connected to a much larger PC-based enterprise network, needed to move very large files without bringing the entire network to a standstill. Network congestion was causing data corruption and deadline crises by the time graphic designer and network manager Rick Goon selected the new technology. Fast Ethernet, essentially an extension of 10Base-T Ethernet technology, appeared to be a simple solution using the same wiring and letting network managers upgrade workgroups selectively. Harman's network now runs with greater speed and consistency, but further upgrades will soon be needed.

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Companies have grown to expect their technology to operate at, well, the speed of technology. Click once and presto! Isn't that the way it's supposed to work? But as information technologies have become more and more sophisticated, computer networks are caught in a mad scramble simply to keep up. Companies transfer larger amounts of mission-critical data over the network, causing high-traffic hot spots to occur and networks to choke. It's basically the paradox of Los Angeles' freeway system: roads designed for speed but frustratingly congested. A lane may be added or a road built, but just when congestion thins, it swells back again. Even if you have the fastest car in the world, you can only inch forward.

Rich Goon, graphic designer and network manager of the Marketing, Design, and Production Center of the Harman Consumer Group, in Long Island, N.Y., part of Harman International, all too often faces the problem of network speed -- or the lack of it, rather. Goon and his fellow designers develop promotional materials for Harman International's high-end consumer audio products, such as JBL and Infinity home and car speakers and Concord car audio equipment. Designers, working on a small island of Macintoshes linked to a larger enterprisewide PC network, create brochures, product literature, advertisements, posters, product packaging, and Web sites, routinely sending 50MB Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and QuarkXPress files to print-and-file servers under deadline pressure.

COMING TO A STANDSTILL. Because the department started its network just three years ago, Goon has faced the ever-recurring problem of congestion. Initially, he connected the system through a small eight-port Farallon StarNet hub. Within six months, however, the department's growth overwhelmed the Farallon hub, and Goon turned to Asante's 10Base-T Ethernet system and installed an Asante Netstacker hub. He thought Netstacker would carry the department far into the future with its 20 ports and its capability to stack hubs to keep pace with the department's growth. By 1995, however, the network was again pushed to the limit.

"We were moving huge, huge files," Goon says. "At the time we put in Netstacker, our biggest file was10MB, but within a year we started going to 100MB files, and recently we've hit 600[MB files]."

Asante's10Base-T Ethernet system simply didn't have the capability to handle this traffic, and congestion both hampered performance and reduced productivity.

"We were seeing QuarkXPress documents corrupted," Goon says. "Sometimes when you opened up an image, half of it would be gone. If we opened a Photoshop file, it would pretty much kill the network. It slowed things down to the extent that we were almost back to LocalTalk."

FASTER, FASTER, ETHERNET. Not only were employees twiddling their thumbs while waiting for file transfers, but Goon had to plan around congestion in order to meet deadlines. The department operated in crisis mode, with each day's crisis coming at 3 p.m. when designers had to get their files back to the server to go to publication. The daily bottleneck literally shut down the server so designers had to be assigned times spaced out during the course of the day when they could copy their files. Deadline pressure became twofold as one person would be slotted for 1 p.m., another at 2 p.m., another at 3 p.m., and so on.

Goon had read about Asante's100Base-T Fast Ethernet and called in Harman Consumer Group's consultant, Harvey Cohen, from the HCS Training Center, also in Long Island. They went with 100Base-T Fast Ethernet mainly because they were both impressed by Asante's proven track record with 10Base-T and knew they could count on its high-quality technical support.

"We're purely Asante in the installation of high-end multimedia work," Cohen says.

"We know it works. Their product is predictable, and their software is superb."

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100 Base-T Fast Ethernet appeared to be a simple solution because it is essentially an extension of the standard 10Base-T Ethernet. 100Base-T Fast Ethernet can use the same wiring, cabling, and media-access method as 10Base-T Ethernet, so it lets network managers upgrade "islands" of workgroups economically within the enterprise as bandwidth needs grow, without isolating them from the rest of the organization.

"We operate on a three-tree network," Goon says. "Somebody running Microsoft Word doesn't need 100Mbps. So what we have is a switching network, a tree of three. The first tree is our high-end users, which use purely 100Mbps; the second our printers, which is 10Mbps; and the third tree is what we call our support text people, which is 10Mbps."

Goon installed the AsanteFast 100 TX stackable hub, 10/100Mbps PCI adapters, and the 10/100Mbps bridge, allowing integration of the 100Mbps Fast Ethernet LAN that the Apple 8100s with 132 MHz and 72MB to 88MB of RAM and the Apple 9500s with 200 MHz and 80MB of RAM, which both run on the 10Mbps Ethernet network. The 10/100Mbps bridge segments the bandwidth-intensive 100Mbps workgroup to help increase overall network performance in the department while still providing continued access to the10Mbps LAN.

"Everybody coexists beautifully," Cohen says. "They do not conflict with each other."

THE ELUSIVE PERMANENT SOLUTION. The network runs with greater speed and consistency now. The bottlenecking and data corruption problems disappeared, and Goon estimates that the system is operating 20 percent faster. He is thrilled but not content. Speed is relative. After all, what sprints today suddenly trudges tomorrow, and he still waits for a more permanent solution.

Goon has learned that the best remedy for the time being is to patch together different products that work in tandem. Goon beta tested an early version of Asante's software accelerator NetDoubler and found that it increased file-transfer speed even more significantly than 100Base-T Fast Ethernet. The problem was that the early version of NetDoubler wasn't compatible with the department's AppleShare server. Every time Goon transferred a file, the server would hang up. The new version of NetDoubler will arrive soon, but Goon is researching other systems, such as TranSoft's SCSI-to-SCSI network, in the hopes that some day he'll find a wide open highway without speed limits.

Grant Faulkner is an Oskaloosa, Iowa-based free-lance writer.

At a glance

Challenge: To greatly increase the speed of mammoth file transfers on a heterogeneous network.

Solution: Asante's 100Base-T Fast Ethernet, AsanteFast 100 TX stackable hub.

Benefit: The network runs with greater speed and consistency; the problems of bottlenecking and data corruption have disappeared; and the system is operating at an estimated 20 percent speed improvement.

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Even after deciding on 100Base-T Fast Ethernet, Rich Goon of Harman Consumer Group, in Long Island, N.Y., found a significant glitch along the way to a working network and at the most fundamental of levels: the wiring. Playing a large part in Goon's rationale for the move to 100Base-T Fast Ethernet was the idea that he wouldn't have to change his existing cables. When installing 100Base-T Fast Ethernet, Goon read that it required Category 5 wiring, but he was unfamiliar with wiring and assumed that because the wiring in the wall had worked for 10Base-T Ethernet, it would also work for 100Base-T Fast Ethernet. Goon and Harman Consumer Group's consultant, Harvey Cohen from the HCS Training Center, also in Long Island, soon found that the wires wouldn't carry 100Mbps.

"Most of our problems stemmed from the wiring configuration itself," Cohen says.

"Before anybody does a 100Base-T installation, they should check the wire. I find that the wiring is not adequate in 30 percent of installations that we go into. The bill of sale might say Category 5, but we're suspect that it's Level 5 if it's over three years old."

The wiring had similar specifications to Category 5 wire, but it was unmarked, and Goon and Cohen didn't really know what level it was. They brought in Britech Electronics, which plugged meters into the wires and discovered 65 percent of them popping up with a red flag. What had initially started out as an evolutionary upgrade was moving closer to a more radical overhaul of the network.

Goon installed the Category 5 wiring himself -- through the ceiling and down the wall to the computers -- because the department plans soon to move to a building that is equipped with Category 5 wiring. But other than the wiring problem, the transition to 100Base-T Fast Ethernet was easy.

"It looked and acted like the10Base-T Ethernet network I had already installed," Goon says.