Cisco Launches Metro Switch

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NFOEC News Analysis
Light Reading

DALLAS -- NFOEC -- Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) announced Monday a souped-up multiservice switch that combines the function of several Sonet optical add/drop multiplexers (ADMs) and a broadband digital crossconnect.

The switch is designed to sit in larger metropolitan networks, where it aggregates, grooms, and switches traffic from the ADMs sitting on the metro rings. Carriers now perform those functions by combining several ADMs for transport and aggregation and using a broadband digital crossconnect for switching.

One appeal to a box such as the ONS 15600 is that it eliminates several boxes and frees up space in carrier central offices. But to some, it may be taking on too many tasks at once. "It's very God-box-like," says Mark Lutkowitz, VP of Communications Industry Researchers Inc. "It should be more simple. The Cerent box was like that."

Interestingly, one network element the ONS 15600 could replace would be Cisco's ONS 15454 ADM, the first and arguably most famous product in its optical networking portfolio. Cisco says it's not worried about losing business to its new product; the company says any displaced ONS 15454s could always be redeployed in a carrier's other metro rings.

That said, the ONS 15600 is a dense metro switch. The box has a 320-Gbit/s switch fabric and handles 384 OC48 (2.5 Gbit/s) connections per rack. With that kind of density, it could compete with Ciena Corp.'s (Nasdaq: CIEN) CoreDirector switch, the current market leader in long-haul applications, which is sometimes used in the metro core.

Cisco, which often innovates by acquisition, says this particular product was developed 100 percent by Cisco hands. Of course, some of the Cisco hands that developed the hardware came from Cisco when it acquired Monterey Networks, a failed core optical switch maker. Many of the other hands came to Cisco from Cerent, where a good bit of the ONS 15600 software code was initially authored.

The product was developed in Cisco's Richardson, Texas, facility in about 18 months time, according to David Lively, Cisco's senior manager for optical strategy. It is expected to ship in the fourth quarter of this year and will be done with the Osmine certification process by March 2003, he says.

Two customers -- U.S. Signal, a Michigan-based competitive local exchange carrier, and Looking Glass Networks, an Illinois-based wholesale carrier -- are currently putting the ONS 15600 through its paces in network trials, Cisco says.

"I think they've hit a sweet spot in the industry," says Peter Evans, CEO of Optovation. Evans says the box could provide a huge boon to large service providers "if it can do everything Cisco's says it can do."

The new Cisco switch may help the company land more carrier sales as it adds yet another piece to a growing optical networking portfolio. However, the ONS 15600 isn't for everyone. Lively says there are "probably less than 100" carriers in the U.S. that have metro networks large enough to require such a switch.

— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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