There are of course many different network architectures many of which have been around for many years. One of them is known as ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) and was considered in the 1990’s to be the ultimate network architecture design. The belief was that in the future every computer or device would be fitted with an ATM network adapter rather than the alternatives which at the time were token-ring or ethernet.

The reality has turned out somewhat different of course, and it’s unlikely that we will ever see the extensive use of ATM based networks. However many corporations installed ATM backbone switches for an important reason because they have the ability to handle network traffic at extremely high speeds.

There is a difficulty though for using these switches, that is ATM is a virtual circuit based, cell based networking scheme which is primarily connection orientated. Compare this with Ethernet which powers the majority of commercial networks which is actually a connection less frame based networking scheme. In fact to integrate the two systems, you need to use one of the available overlays which have been developed in order to allow Ethernet to be connected to the ATM backbones and switches.

These normally work by using layer 3 routing algorithms which can discover the initial routes through the network, Then layer 2 virtual circuits can be established through the ATM fabric delivering data without actually going directly through the routers. This technique is normally known as ‘shortcut routing’ although you will often here it described by other terms as it’s a useful technique. If you need more detailed information check your normal networking references or search online using search terms like ‘IP routing over ATM’.

There are difficulties with these improvised techniques one of the most common is knowing when to route and when to switch the traffic at layer 2. Long data transmissions such as Netflix video streams should be switched as the more efficient method of transport. However for shorter transmissions then the router is normally the best option.

Layer 3 traffic will not under normal circumstances identify the length of the transmission so it may or may not be suitable to be switched. There are ways of identifying the length of the transmission normally by inspecting the content of the datagrams itself. There are many different methods of identifying the flow mostly developed by different networking companies, some are no longer commonly used but you will find others being developed or utilized extensively in various environments. See the references below for some examples that can be researched for more information.

References:
3 Com Fast IP
Ipsilon IP Switching
Switch IP Address – Watch UK TV in USA

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