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FireWire Networking

One emerging application of FireWire technology is video networking. Unlike most computer networking protocols (which were specifically designed to handle data), FireWire was developed to route network traffic in asynchronous and isochronous ways. Asynchronous networks service low-bandwidth packets (like simple instructions) and isochronous networks handle high-bandwidth streams (like video). This makes FireWire a preferred protocol for Ethernet and Fibre Channel networks (which can handle only asynchronous data) and an extremely good networking technology for broadcast facilities and other video-intensive environments.

Currently, only Microsoft's Windows ME operating system can automatically configure computers connected by FireWire into an instant network. This OS even assigns special IP addresses to each FireWire node--something Apple hasn't added to its system software.

Thankfully, there is third-party FireWire networking software for both Windows 2000 and Macintosh users. One company, Unibrain (www.unibrain.com/), manufactures Ethernet-emulation software called FireNet, which routes IP data over FireWire for networking in PC-to-PC, Mac-to-Mac, or PC-to-Mac configurations. FireNet even allows you to use other Ethernet protocols such as IPX, AppleTalk, and NetBeui. On Windows 2000 servers, FireNet appears in your Network Properties (upon installation) as a network adapter. Unibrain also makes a version for Macintosh computers, optimized for Mac OS 9 with AppleShare IP or Mac OS X.

FireNet can perform at up to four times the speed of Fast Ethernet by using pure TCP/IP, but without the proper server set-up, your computer can become a bottleneck. If you connect your workstations in a network without one of the above-mentioned operating systems, then you're totally reliant on the performance of each node's file-sharing structure, which can restrict the high-speed data transfers that are FireWire's hallmark. Running FireNet on a computer without server software will result in performance that isn't any faster than with Ethernet. Naturally, FireNet performs better on better computers: For example, a Macintosh G4 500 will serve files significantly faster than a G3 desktop model.

Figure 3 When used in conjunction with IP router software, FireNet can outperform even Fast Ethernet by employing a pure TCP/IP configuration.

Although FireNet is not nearly robust enough to handle the daily networking demands of a television studio, it's ideal for clusters of computers dedicated to desktop video projects. For small groups of DV moviemakers, FireNet is a smart way to squeeze extra performance out of their FireWire cables' existing bandwidth.

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