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Building a 'Rock Solid Ethernet'

Building, configuring and troubleshooting Ethernet networks in a production environment is imperative as we migrate from traditional technology-specific data formats to commodity IT protocols.

For an industry that still hasn't assimilated the relatively forgiving DMX512 protocol-even 18 years after its introduction-a book with insights into buildingEthernet networks is welcome. "Rock Solid Ethernet" from Wayne Howell is aimed squarely at those of us who have to design, build and maintain production-grade Ethernet networks. Howell, the brains behind Art-Net, the DMX-over-Ethernet protocol adopted by more than 40 lighting companies, is keenly aware of the demands of our industry.

"Rock Solid Ethernet" is not aimed at lighting exclusively. It's applicable to audio, automation, pyrotechnics, video, projection control, communications, fountains, show control, MIDI, atmospheric effects or whatever else may bepumped across an Ethernet network.

This book takes the adventurous approach of trying to be all things to all people. At one end of the spectrum are introductory sections targeting readers who have no network experience. At the other end are sections intended for those with comprehensive backgrounds in electronics and computer technology.

Howell attempts to provide would-be Ethernet experts with all the resources they could possibly need on the path to enlightenment.

Content ranges from selecting cables, plugs, wiring schemes and network interfaces to finding the most appropriate wide area network protocol, network hardware and packet-sniffing software. There are historical notes, as well as crash courses in network topologies, protocols, design and troubleshooting, an excessively thorough glossary, instructions on making Ethernet cables, a list of major standards documents for Ethernet and the Internet, an overview of other data protocols and a survey of some Ethernet software and equipment (with emphasis on products from Howell's own company, Artistic Licence).

Without doubt, "Rock Solid Ethernet" contains a vast amount of knowledge, but occasionally falls short on sufficient explanations on how to use that knowledge. Although I have more than 20 years of experience with computers and networks at many levels, I found much of interest in this book. I also found some of the information to be delivered in a sequence and style that may baffle less knowledgeable readers.

Howell clearly has formidable passion and knowledge about Ethernet and how to use it in entertainment production. It is unfortunate that Howell's material has not been treated with as much care as he has shown for its content.

SHIP TO SHORE

The quality of the typesetting and proofreading is disappointing. While it is understandable that a proofreader who is unfamiliar with the material could let "pier-to-pier network" slip past, there is no excuse for the substantial number of missing periods and spaces. I also have the impression that Howell did not have the opportunity to work closely with an editor to develop this extensive body of information into a flow more comprehensible to the networking novice. Given that the publisher, Entertainment Technology Press, takes pride in using modern printing technologies to run a "print-on-demand" operation, I look forward to seeing these shortcomings rectified in the next print run.

Adam Bennette's pamphlet, "Recommended Practice for DMX 512," has been of great service to the lighting industry over the last decade, but I suspect "Rock Solid Ethernet" will usurp it as the most referred-to technical handbook in the forthcoming decade.