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Relay, Still The Preferred wan Option
Relay is a technology that is used to create wide area networks
mostly connecting locations across the globe. It has been
a preferred WAN technology for many years globally and in
India. But with the emergence of the IP protocol and its
open standard, the first real competition to the Frame Relay
technology has also been introduced.
after over a decade of existence, Frame Relay is seeing
some slow down in terms of its users and the main reason
being the wide area networking capability provided by the
IP protocol. In fact, quite a few market watchers from major
vendor companies such as Cisco or 3Com feel that many big
customers are being attracted by newer technologies such
as ATM, VPN or IP. Moreover, companies in India that have
been traditionally using X.25 as a WAN technology will adopt
IP faster than Frame Relay, which was designed to work over
ISDN and was meant to overcome the disadvantages of X.25.
Chandan Mendiratta, consulting engineer, Cisco India, "As
we see Internet evolving and 'any-to-any' connectivity becoming
prevalent, Frame Relay might see a set back. With new devices
such as PDAs, mobile phones demanding support for various
applications such as WAP that have been introduced; Frame
Relay has not been able to scale up to such demands. In
fact, it was never designed to support such level of any-to-any
Relay basically is a service for people who want an absolute
bare bone, connections oriented way to move bits from location
A to location B. It can be at best thought of as a virtual
leased line. Users can lease a permanent virtual pipe between
two locations and can then send frames of up to 1600 bytes
In the OSI model of networking, Frame Relay works at the
second layer and is thus not capable of handling certain
applications. On the other hand, IP works at the Layer 3
of the OSI model. Thus it has become the protocol of choice
to support such real-time, mission critical applications.
"Since there is support for IP in almost all devices
and it provides many choices as far as any to any connectivity
and as this is independent of what we use at the physical
and data link layers, IP has become a technology of choice,"
Sehgal, technical manager, CommWorks, a division of 3Com,
points out that besides IP, ATM is another WAN protocol
that is becoming a threat to Frame Relay's existing market.
According to him ATM will see better fate than Frame Relay
as it can be used at the LAN level also. But with Ethernet
becoming the standard protocol for LAN, IP stands out to
be the clear winner. "Even the vendors are not very
keen to push this technology and you find most of them focussing
on IP products. This is mainly because the standards in
Frame Relay have not changed much or developed much since
inception," he adds.
or not, when we talked to the users, most of them said that
they would prefer to use Frame Relay to connect their offices.
According to Ravi Malhotra, head, information systems, Apollo
Tyres, the company is currently working on the blueprint
for a Wide Area Network and they are considering both IP
and Frame Relay. He adds, "But I feel that we will
settle for Frame Relay as it is more secure and the cost
of deploying a Frame Relay network is cheaper than that
of a IP based network. In addition, Frame Relay can carry
bigger packets of data at one go."
with Malhotra, C.R. Narayanan, company IT Manager, Alstom
Power explains, "Frame Relay is a better technology
as it let's you burst your traffic in the sense that at
any given point of time the user can send a big packet of
data. Because of Committed Information Rate (CIR) and port
spread bursting of traffic is possible."
In fact, with Frame Relay, multiple connections are possible
on a single line. This reduces the administration cost and
in turn the cost of the leased pipe. Even in the network
infrastructure, Frame Relay offers interconnectivity in
a meshed set-up, thus making connection of the networks
Avnish Dutt, country manager, Global One, " In international
data transport, Frame Relay offers two advantages that are
not offered by IP. They are security and classes of service
for different applications. For example corporates with
ERP, e-mail and RDBMS running on the network can prioritize
and bandwidth can be allocated likewise. But in alternative
technologies such as IP, that may not be possible."
logical components of Frame Relay like Permanent Virtual
Circuits (PVCs) can ensure that the data transfer is secure.
In addition, the CIR also improves the quality of service
within the Frame Relay network. Avers Narayanan of Alstom
Power, "Today IP is popular because of its open standard
and easy of adaptability. But from a technology perspective,
Frame Relay is definitely better."
the popularity of this service, Global One now has plans
to enhance its Frame Relay service by introducing next generation
Frame Relay technology that will give higher throughput
and various classes of service. Currently it is offering
a 2Mbps throughput to its customers in the country.
vendors such as Cisco have been proponents of Frame Relay
as it is a member with the Frame Relay Forum. Cisco's Mendiratta
informs, "With an initial product release in December
1990, Cisco was the first router-bridge vendor to support
frame relay. Cisco's Frame Relay offering supports both
public service and private backbone network configurations
and complies with the consortium specification developed
by Cisco and other companies.
LMI (Local Management Interface) extensions are included.
In fact, we provide Frame Relay support on all router platforms
and industry leading multi-service switches such as IGX
and BPX switches. As a member of the Frame Relay forum,
we take part in different trials and are involved actively
in enhancements of this technology."
statistical multiplexing in this technology provides more
flexible and efficient utilization of available bandwidth;
it can be used without TDM techniques, or on top of channels
provided by TDM systems.
Sehgal of CommWorks also sees an increase in the usage of
Frame Relay services with the laying of optical fiber cables
across the globe and in the country. In fact, the maximum
usage will be in the MNCs and the software development units.
"While IP has been a success at retail, most enterprises
prefer to use Frame Relay for their wide area networks.
They prefer not to rely on IP for their mission critical
applications, " says Dutt.
the need for connectivity increases and users look for security,
lower cost and flexibility, Frame Relay is going to see
a burst of growth. In fact, according to a research projection,
by 2004 the international Frame Relay market will be over
$ 600 million in the Asia Pacific region. What with popularity
of IP, and the need for security, most industry watchers
feel that with a little more development, Frame Relay and
IP will coexist in corporate networks.
Bhattacharya, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org