Alcatel Eyes Video Market

Enhancements to the 7750 and 7450 aim at bringing the routers into the IP video market

April 26, 2005

5 Min Read
Alcatel Eyes Video Market

Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) is beefing up its edge router franchise by adding multicast and high availability to the former TiMetra Networks platform (see Alcatel Enhances IP Tech).

Multicast capabilities boost the IPTV potential of the 7750 Service Router and its Ethernet offspring, the 7450 Ethernet Service Switch (see Alcatel Unveils Metro Ethernet Products). And high availability, added to the 7750, is crucial to many service providers anxious to squeeze as much uptime as possible from routers.

The features were announced yesterday but have been shipping to customers for months, along with new security additions and ATM interfaces.

Router vendors have talked about multicast for so long that it seems odd to learn the 7750 didn't have it until now. The reason is that Alcatel has been more focused on virtual private LAN services (VPLS), a specialty of the 7750's creators at TiMetra, which Alcatel acquired in 2003 (see Alcatel & TiMetra Seal the Deal and Kompella vs Kompella).

"Before, they were focused on VPLS and different kinds of VPN services. Those kinds of operations don't need a multicast feature set," says Kevin Mitchell, analyst with Infonetics Research Inc.

The strategy seems to have worked, as the 7750 has the reputation of being a strong seller among multiservice edge routers, a category that includes entrants from Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Hammerhead Systems Inc., Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR), Laurel Networks Inc., Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), Riverstone Networks Inc. (OTC: RSTN.PK), and Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA).

But Alcatel, like most other router vendors, is hearing the siren song of video over IP and is adapting the routers accordingly. Alcatel doesn't consider itself late to the party, because video -- television, specifically -- has only recently emerged as a demand driver for multicast. "Vendors have been talking about multicast for a while, and the multicast feature has been around for a while, but there hasn't been a compelling application," says Lindsay Newell, director of marketing for Alcatel's IP division.

The VPN crowd can benefit from multicast, too, as the feature is useful for videoconferencing and distance learning. "Multicast makes [Alcatel] more attractive from a Layer 3 perspective," says Jim Brunetti, director of IP engineering for VPN provider Masergy Communications Inc.

Separately, Alcatel has added high availability to the 7750 in the form of nonstop routing. Users now have the option of running a second control-plane module to back up the primary module. The backup keeps track of state information so that in the event of a failure, it can take over for a quick recovery.

Alcatel takes the concept one step further by providing what it calls "nonstop services" -- meaning the control modules maintain the state of services inside VPN tunnels, "so we don't have to relearn the service tunnel information," Newell says. The combination of features brings the recovery time down to microseconds, he claims.

Like multicast, nonstop routing and nonstop services can be targeted at the triple-play crowd that offers voice, video, and data services combined. The features may be less of a treat for VPN customers. Masergy is interested in anything that improves network reliability, but non-stop routing fits more in the "nice-to-have" category, Brunetti says. "We're not going to change our SLAs [service level agreements] for it."

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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