Nortel Preps New PBT Switch

Nortel has a new PBT-optimized Ethernet switch in the works as it tries to rival the MPLS router vendors

November 14, 2007

5 Min Read
Nortel Preps New PBT Switch

The question for Nortel is not "What's new?" but "What's MetroNext?"

Nortel is taking its carrier Ethernet campaign to the next level with the development of a new switch, codenamed MetroNext, that will be optimized for Provider Backbone Transport (PBT) and include support for multicast services such as IPTV.

Though not yet publicly announced, Nortel has confirmed that the MetroNext platform is in development, but it's keeping some of the finer technical and timing details quiet as it looks to stay at the forefront of PBT developments. (See PBT Gathers Support and PBT Means What?)

Phillipe Morin, president of Nortel's Metro Ethernet Networks division, says Nortel is putting a lot of resources into carrier Ethernet R&D and is looking to build on its initial Tier 1 success at BT, along with some engagements with smaller operators.

BT has already deployed Nortel's PBT-enabled Ethernet switches in Italy, where it serves enterprise customers, while deployment as part of BT's 21CN next-generation network project will be further down the line. Now the vendor is hell-bent on signing up other major incumbents that will give PBT the credibility it needs to become a viable alternative to Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS). (See BT Goes Live With PBT, Vendors Clash Over PBT, and MPLS: Metro a No-Go?)

So what's Nortel's plan? Morin says Nortel is looking to develop new hardware platforms, service capabilities, and management functions.

"The MetroNext product is part of the overall product enhancement process -- it's part of the focus to make PBT more deployable," said Morin when asked about the new product development during a recent telephone interview with Light Reading.

"We're continuing to invest and not waiting for the competition to catch up," he added.

That investment includes adding multicast capabilities to the new Ethernet platform. PBT can currently enable the provision of point-to-point connections, but the vendor is keen to enable multipoint capabilities so that it can pitch PBT into the IPTV infrastructure market.

"We're going to introduce [multicast] functionality and strengthen the network management," stated Morin.

And the network management needs strengthening. PBT's lack of a control plane, along with the fact that PBT is not yet a standardized technology (and unlikely to be so much before 2009), is regarded by many as one of the technology's biggest handicaps.

Morin says Nortel's current aim is to: integrate as many of the operations, administration and management (OA&M) functions, such as remote management capabilities, into the company's Ethernet switches; enhance Nortel's own Metro Ethernet Manager element management software; and team up with specialist software firms, such as Soapstone Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SOAP), that can deliver control plane capabilities and interface with existing carrier OSS systems. (See Avici Amped Up for Soapstone Launch, Soapstone Intros PNC for PBT, and PBT Parties On.)

To Page 2

The heart of MetroNext
It seems, though, that Nortel is also developing a new technology that can tackle multicasting and provide a PBT control plane at the same time. That technology, which is believed to be at heart of MetroNext, is Provider Link State Bridging (PLSB).

In a presentation given to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) in January this year by Nortel, PLSB was positioned as a "control plane capable of controlling and configuring PBB-TE."

PBB-TE (Provider Backbone Bridging - Traffic Engineering), or 802.1 Qay, is the name given to PBT in the IEEE standards process.

The presentation, which you can see here, also notes that "PLSB optimizes multicast topology in a way not achievable prior to this with Ethernet or MPLS systems."

The presentation concludes: "When PBBN [Provider Backbone Bridging Networks], PLSB and PBB-TE are combined, this offers a comprehensive and optimal solution to supporting all manner of Ethernet services, and numerous options for interconnecting legacy L2 and L3 devices over a common Ethernet based network."

Another presentation, with less granular detail and more graphical representations of what PLSB does, may be found here

Nortel has a patent for PLSB (United States Patent 20070165657), with two of its leading PBT developers, Dave Allan and Nigel Bragg, named among the inventors.

Hammerhead Systems Inc. , a member of the Carrier Ethernet Ecosystem set up by Nortel, has just announced PBT capabilities that include support for multicast services that can run across interconnected PBT and MPLS clouds, though it is using VSI (virtual switching instances) to build multipoint-to-multipoint connections. (See Hammerhead Unveils PBT Smarts and Nortel Pushes PBT Pact.)

Questions are already being raised, though, about the introduction of technologies such as PLSB. And such questions are coming not just from MPLS supporters, who are always ready to pick holes in the PBT proposition, but even from vendors seeking to build up a business based partly on PBT's success.

In a white paper earlier this year, Tpack A/S , which provides FPGA designs and applications software for multiple technologies, including PBT and its MPLS equivalent, Transport MPLS (T-MPLS), noted: "Since the chief value of PBB-TE compared with IP/MPLS is a connection-oriented point-to-pointarchitecture with no complex control plane, it remains to be seen how useful these advanced control plane proposals will be in practice." (See PBT Gathers Support and Meriton Uses Tpack.)

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor (RLMINE), Light Reading

Interested in learning more on this topic? Then come to The Future of Carrier Ethernet: Eastern Europe 2007, a conference focused on the evolution of Ethernet as the technology of choice for enabling next-gen services in telecom networks. To be staged in Warsaw, Poland, November 27, admission is free for attendees meeting our prequalification criteria. For more information, or to register, click here.

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