David Strom

Grand Junction Makes Fast Departmental Products Worthwhile

By David Strom

Life in the fast lane sure can be exciting, especially when it comes to deciding whether the

fast Ethernet products are ready for your enterprise. We tested one of the first, the duo of a

switching hub and a fast network adapter from Grand Junction. While they have done an

admirable job on both, the products point out how much of a new niche this fast lane still is,

and we only recommend them for those particular workgroups that will gain substantial

benefit. Deploying these products across the enterprise is another matter entirely.

Why two products? You actually need them both to make the transition from slow 10 megabit

Ethernet to the 100 megabit speeds. Grand Junction has figured out a quite elegant and fairly

painless way to incorporate networks that mix the two speeds together. They learned their

lessons from IBM's forays in the 16 megabit token ring arena several years ago: then users

had to convert entire networks over to make use of the faster speeds. 

Grand is a new company and this is their first product. However, don't let that get in the way

of thinking well of these guys. They know their stuff: the company includes many industry

veterans including some ex-3Com veterans.

The hub is a 24-port affair with two important twists (pardon the pun): first, each port can

only be connected to a single workstation. This differs from other switching hubs from

Kalpana and Synoptics that will handle multiple workstations (or cascaded hub connections)

per port. We'll get to the implications of this in a moment. Second, there are two sets of

additional ports beyond these 24 10BaseT ports: two 100 megabit ports to connect to your

server or other busy nodes and one10 megabit port to connect to your network backbone (all

three styles of connectors are available for this latter port: RJ45 for 10BaseT, coax and AUI


At a price of close to $300 per10BaseT port, this makes for a hub that is more expensive that

managed hubs (which are now as low as $80 per port) and less expensive than the fully

switched hubs (which start at $700 per port). 

The second piece to the puzzle is the 100 megabit network adapter card. This goes in an

EISA server (right now, Grand Junction provides NetWare 4..x, 3.12, and 3.11 drivers only).

The card connects to the special 100 megabit port on the hub via a shielded cable with four

wires in it, similar to a token ring cable in style and terminated with DB 9 connectors. The

card is relatively inexpensive compared to other high-performance10 megabit Ethernet cards:

in some cases it costs about half of what the 10 megabit EISA adapters are selling for.

Indeed, given the relatvie disparity of the prices of the hub and the card, we would

recommend that Grand Junction just include one card as part of the base price of the hub


Installing the card is relatively painless and follows the usual pattern of EISA adapters: first

you configure the machine with the configuration disk provided by the PC's vendor (in our

case, Compaq). It asks you for Grand's .CFG files and copies them onto the Compaq

configuration disk. You then boot the machine to DOS, copy the appropriate driver file to

your server's hard disk, and bring up your NetWare server. 

On earlier NetWare 3.x networks, you might need to upgrade your version of the

MONITOR.NLM: Grand Junction has thoughfully provided this for you right on the disk and

has documented quite clearly how to make the change.

We tested the hub on a small network of four DOS clients, all 486 machines with varying

network adapters in them. We used NetWare 4.01 and Novell's VLM client software on each

client, and used a variety of "packet blaster" tests (including Novell's own Perform3) to

saturate the network as best as we could.

We made several comparisons between a configuration that used a Grand Junction card in the

NetWare server with a second configuration that used a 3Com Etherlink III EISA card in the

same server and with the same network clients. The only difference was that the 3Com card

was connected to a 10BaseT port on the hub, rather than to the 100 megabit port. 

Even with such a small network we found out that the combination of hub and adapter card

do work as advertised: our four workstations were able to get three times a single Ethernet

segment's throughput. This is comparing the throughput observed with our NetWare server

running an EISA 3Com Etherlink III card to the same machine running with the Grand

Junction adapter installed. 

Our tests also found that there was little or no latency introduced by the switching properties

of the hub: we observed identical single-station performance running at 10 megabits.

We would recommend you do any testing with actual applications rather than our artificial

packet blaster routines, and we suspect that bandwidth-intensive file copies and database

transfers will show this hub to its best advantage.

So who should make use of this gear? We don't recommend the product for the enterprise,

unless your enterprise consists entirely of high-powered graphics workstations that are already

pushing enough packets to fill up your Ethernet network. The vast majority of enterprises we

know of have mostly office productivity applications running over their networks: these kinds

of applications generate sparse network traffic and won't benefit tremendously from Grand's


However, we do recommend the product for particular workgroups that have specialized

bandwidth-intensive applications, such as a workgroup that publishes graphic images over the

network. How can you tell? Only with a network analyzer and lots of time looking at network

response times and packet flows. If you are loath to do this sort of analysis, then you are

wasting your money on the Grand Junction products: you first have to locate where the

network bottleneck is before you can solve it. If your bottleneck is with a slow server's hard

disk or going through multiple router hops, for example, then the fastest network adapter in

the universe won't make things much better for your complaining users.

Part of the issue is the single-workstation-per-port limitation of the device: the implications of

this means that the workstations connected to the Grand Junction hub should be those that

need a full 10 megabit Ethernet pipe to the server. And if you have the type of establishment

where it is difficult to quarantine these power-users to a particular geographic location

(whether because departments move frequently around your office complex or because these

users are scattered around your site), you will be faced with a tough choice: Either you'll have

to upgrade all your hubs across your enterprise, or collect your bandwidth-hungry users and

confine them to a single spot. The latter choice might be politically impossible, and the

former choice expensive. At nearly $300 per port you might be better off segmenting your

network and placing multiple 10 megabit cards in your servers.

Vital Statistics:

FastSwitch 10/100 $7250

FastNIC 100 EISA $399

available November 1993

Ready for the Enterprise?  NOT.

Pros: --The combination of switched hub and fast Ethernet card can significantly increase

network throughput 

--The combination is a solid method of making the transition between 10 megabit and 100

megabit Ethernets.

Cons: -- At a cost of nearly $300 per 10Base-T port, this could get expensive if deployed

across the entire enterprise.

-- Finding the bottlenecks that these products can solve can be very time consuming.

Vendor contact:

Grand Junction Networks, Inc.

47281 Bayside Pkwy

Fremont, CA 94538

510 252 0726

800 747 3278

510 252 0918 fax

Internet: martyf@fastlan.granjunction.com [check if there is a better address?]

Test Bed:

Compaq Deskpro 486/50 M running NetWare 4.01 with alternate adapters (3Com Etherlink

III and the Grand Junction G110), four DOS clients (various Dell and Compaq 486 machines

ranging in speeds from 33 to 66 MHz and using network adapters from Intel, 3Com, and

Cogent Data Technologies). All client machines connected to alternate hubs via 10BaseT

cabling and were running 1.02 VLM client software. Hubs used include Grand Junction's and

Thomas Conrad's TC-5055. Test tools included a variety of software such as Novell's

PERFORM3 to measure network throughput.

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David Strom David Strom Port Washington, NY 11050 USA US TEL: 1 (516) 944-3407