ATM & MPLS Forums Merge

'I told you so' may be heard from folk who think MPLS has turned into another ATM anyhow

July 15, 2004

3 Min Read
ATM & MPLS Forums Merge

Some private chuckles are likely to be had today, on the news that the MPLS/Frame Relay Alliance and ATM Forum are planning to merge (see ATM, MPLS/Frame Relay Forums Merge).

From one perspective, the merger makes a lot of sense, because most vendors have morphed their Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) switches into multiservice switch/routers and are singing the same tune on how Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) will underpin tomorrow's converged telecom networks. So the forums have overlapping memberships.From another perspective, however, some technology gurus will probably think: "I told you so." A few years ago, they were warning that MPLS was in danger of being hijacked by the folk that led the development of ATM astray.

One of those was Mike O'Dell, a former network architect of UUnet (now part of MCI Inc.). O'Dell had a really good rant about MPLS becoming a "Frankenstein monster" in a memo that was published in a memorable Light Reading column in August 2001 (see The Monster Memo).

The column cited a Light Reading Research Poll taken by 1,225 readers, in which 37 percent of respondents agreed with a statement saying "MPLS will end up just like ATM - a big ball of hair" (see MPLS - Just Kidding? and Poll: Is MPLS BS?).

Other MPLS skeptics include Peter Lothberg, a guru who advised Sprint Corp. (NYSE: FON) to offer IP VPNs without using MPLS; and Karl Schrodis, head of the "KING" project in Germany that's investigating alternatives to MPLS. Schrodis, an employee of Siemens Information and Communications Networks Inc., probably has to keep his views on MPLS to himself these days (see MPLS Gets Lukewarm Reviews and MPLS: King for a Day?).

The press release announcing the planned merger of the MPLS/Frame Relay and ATM forums says the consolidated association will "advance the deployment of multi-vendor, multi-service, packet-based networks, associated applications and interworking solutions". This suggests that the new body might extend its remit beyond Layer 2 technologies, possibly encroaching on the turf of the Multiservice Switching Forum and the International Packet Communications Consortium (IPCC).

The influence of these forums was the subject of a recent Light Reading poll (see Industry Forums: Useful or Useless?). The relevant results, after 223 responses are as follows:

Table 1: Influence of Forums

A lot

Quite a lot

A Little

None at all

Don't know

ATM Forum






MPLS/Frame Relay Alliance






International Packet Communications Consortium






Multiservice Switching Forum






Not surprisingly, the MPLS/Frame Relay Alliance carries more clout than the ATM Forum. "It's not like the heyday of the ATM Forum when there were thousands of submissions, but there's still ongoing work," says Gary Leonard, vice president of marketing for the MPLS/FR Alliance. And both organizations easily outgun the Multiservice Switching Forum. The IPCC does really poorly.

Apparently, no name has been agreed upon for the merged MPLS and ATM forums, so here's a suggestion: Think big and rope in the Multiservice Switching Forum and International Packet Communications Consortium as well, and call it "The Convergence Caboodle."

Officials did confirm that the new organization would not be called the MPLSFRATM Forum.

If readers have other suggestions for the merged forums' new name, please post them on the message board.

— Peter Heywood, Founding Editor, Light Reading

For further education, visit the archives of related Light Reading Webinars:

  • MPLS: Five Key Convergence Questions

  • IP: MPLS – 21st Century Traffic Engineering

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