Light Reading

Verizon Builds an MPLS Metro With AlcaLu

Craig Matsumoto
News Analysis
Craig Matsumoto

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) will be using the new Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) core router, but not in the core. What the carrier really wants is a lot more Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) in its metro network.

The plan also includes 100Gbit/s Ethernet connections housed on the new Alcalu 7950 XRS line of routers, which were introduced last Tuesday. (See Alcatel-Lucent, Juniper Get Core-Router Upgrades.)

AlcaLu touted the XRS as a core router, but Verizon is more interested in its potential in the metro network. Specifically, the XRSs will be used to aggregate Ethernet traffic before sending it to an MPLS-based core.

"This is all about metro aggregation and the expansion and scaling of the Ethernet edge," says Ihab Tarazi, Verizon's vice president of global network planning.

Wireless backhaul, video, consumer services and cloud usage are all contributing to increased metro Ethernet traffic, so Verizon needs higher-density boxes for moving all that traffic. It also needs to distinguish between services, and that's where MPLS becomes important.

AlcaLu 7450s are doing that job now, but Verizon is going to need the density of the XRS, which AlcaLu says can handle 16Tbit/s of traffic per rack (8Tbit/s if ingress and egress traffic aren't both counted at once).

The change is being driven by increases in bandwidth, but also by more hectic intra-metro traffic. For example, as Verizon caches more video traffic near the network edge, that means it needs to haul more Ethernet around the metro. Wireless backhaul is a contributor as well, Tarazi says.

At its root, the planned metro core isn't so radical, he adds. Really, it reflects the fact that this many services have made the transition to packet networks from time-division multiplexed (TDM) ones. "With all these things going to MPLS, you're going to have to scale the access side. That's the concept here," Tarazi says. "All these things were happening before, but they were happening on T1s, DS3s and Sonet."

The use of MPLS does mean Verizon will be turning away from Provider Backbone Bridging (PBB), its previous choice for the metro Ethernet backbone. MPLS is more reliable and efficient and affords faster turn-up of services, Tarazi says.

PBB isn't departing the Verizon network completely, just in that metro-core capacity. "Some customers still like it on the edge, because they get MAC address scaling," Tarazi says. Verizon expects to introduce 100Gbit/s connections in the metro on the XRS routers and on its optical platforms, Tarazi says. But that's only going to be in spots where the traffic demands it; they won't get crazy with it, and big volumes probably won't start until 2013. Few 40Gbit/s connections will make it into the metro, he adds.

— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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Pete Baldwin
Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:31:36 PM
re: Verizon Builds an MPLS Metro With AlcaLu

A 100G metro with MPLS -- that's a little more special than Ihab made it out to be, isn't it?

Separately: Got an earful last week about the XRS, as some people consider it more a glorified edge router than a core router. Interesting that the first announced customer isn't using it in the core (although some network-core jobs are undoubtedly well into the discussion phase).

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:31:30 PM
re: Verizon Builds an MPLS Metro With AlcaLu

I'm wondering what gives a router the "core" label. While there are differences in the capabilities of core and edge routers, one carrier's edge could be another carrier's edge--if we're to go pretty much solely by the capacity of a router (as your article illustrates). Is there opportunity here for reporters and/or analysts to establish some metrics for what's a core/aggregation/edge router so they can say while the vendor labels it a core router, in our opinion it more an aggregation device? Just wondering...

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:31:29 PM
re: Verizon Builds an MPLS Metro With AlcaLu

Verizon and others aren't using the XRS to terminate customer L2VPN connections, they will be using it to interconnect and aggregate MPLS traffic from other PE devices.  Although ALU supports some native L2 delivery like G.8032, I'm not aware of any providers which really use it, they deliver traffic end to end using MPLS via LDP/RSVP.  

So in essence the device does the same exact job as a core router, it's just a transit point between edges or up to a larger core...

The XRS is not an "edge" router persay.  It has reduced scale for services, won't support a services modules, etc.  So I think it falls in the "core" category along with something like the Juniper PTX.   Also port selection sometimes dictates a "core" box.  You don't see any 1GE or TDM modules for either the PTX or XRS...

Small and large providers use "edge" routers as both edge and core.  Some providers, even large ones, use Juniper MX960s or Cisco ASR9000s for everything...

Pete Baldwin
Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:31:28 PM
re: Verizon Builds an MPLS Metro With AlcaLu

> So in essence the device does the same exact job as a core router, it's just a transit point between edges or up to a larger core...

Thanks for the input and the details, dwx. Interesting to note that even large providers can use the "edge" boxes everywhere.

Pete Baldwin
Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:31:28 PM
re: Verizon Builds an MPLS Metro With AlcaLu

Flook - I don't think there's any scientific delineation; what I picked up (admittedly, from marketing people circa 2000-2005) is that what made a core router was basically bigness -- and the cutoff point of bigness depended on the bigness of your network.

I think the only black-and-white distinction we have is the multichassis ability, but even that might change if... I don't know, if data centers somehow go router-crazy and find some need for multichassis end-of-row routers? I'm totally making that up.

The analysts all divide up edge/metro/agg/core differently, and of course there's lots of legitimate overlap. I think we're stuck with loose terminology in this area.

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:31:25 PM
re: Verizon Builds an MPLS Metro With AlcaLu

I think VZ's theme here is mainly to avoid IP routing in its own transit networks. Instead of being dependent on costly L3 IP routers from very few interoperable vendors, VZ seems to prefer using L2 MPLS-TP for scalable packet switched services. The SPs’ hope is that there will be interoperable L2 MPLS-TP switches from multiple competitive vendors.

The ‘packet-optical’ (really packet/T/WDM) systems (such as those with ALU, supposedly) allow flexibly using also L1 or L0 transit to bypass any packet switching by the SP (eg VZ), for minimum latency/jitter/data loss services. However, the use of L1/0 bypass presently comes with loss of packet stat-muxing bandwidth efficiencies and lower flexibility of connectivity.

So there are still significant technology tradeoffs to be resolved, to realize optimal performance, cost-efficiency and flexibility of networking.

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