I need to increase the network bandwidth to a few of my servers. Most of these older servers have 32-bit PCI slots, and I noticed that all the new gigabit Ethernet cards are 64-bit cards. I can't justify replacing the servers and can't afford some of the asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) options available for my Cisco Systems' Catalyst 4006 switch. Any suggestions?

Many Gigabit Ethernet cards are backward-compatible with 32-bit PCI, but if you choose cards that aren't, you can solve your problem in another way. Running a Cisco switch makes the process of increasing network bandwidth fairly straightforward. Some time ago, Cisco developed a technology to help with the situation you describe. Fast EtherChannel enables load balancing (to ensure that bandwidth is equally distributed across NICs) and redundancy across multiple adapters. Many switches on the market today offer Fast EtherChannel support, including the Catalyst 4006.

To take advantage of Fast EtherChannel, you need a NIC that supports the technology. Most of the new Intel NICs support Fast EtherChannel. Setting up Fast EtherChannel in Windows NT with the Intel NIC is fairly simple. Add two NICs to your machine and load the driver for each NIC. Now, go to the Control Panel Network applet, select the Adapters tab, and view the adapters' Properties. On the Teaming tab, you'll see a few teaming options; select Fast EtherChannel. Now, add the NICs to a team, click Apply, and exit. The system will request the Fast EtherChannel team's IP address. You can use the IP address that you've already set for the standalone adapter.

Now that you've completed the configuration, launch a Telnet or terminal session into your Catalyst 4006. Enter Enabled mode, and type the following:

set port command <module number>/
<participating ports> on

where module number is the number of the module that your Fast EtherChannel ports will reside on and participating ports are the two ports participating in a Fast EtherChannel team. In the Catalyst 4006, both ports need to be in the same module, but they don't need to be consecutive ports. A sample session follows:

telnet 4006
Welcome to your Cisco switch ­ enter password
CICO4006> (enable)
CISO4006> (enable) set port
command 5/29-30 on

If you want to check your switches' port capabilities, you can type

show port capabilities

from the Enable prompt.

Fast EtherChannel should now be up and running. Using the Intel adapter, you can add as many as four NICs.