RPR Divided

The working group for RPR is as divided as ever

September 13, 2001

5 Min Read
RPR Divided

Despite the terrorist attacks on the east coast, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) Resilient Packet Ring (RPR) working group 802.17 continued its work to hash out a standard draft this week in San Jose, CA.

The standard is important in the development of next-generation metropolitan area technology for telecom networks. The stark division between two camps working on the standard, however, is making some wonder if the working group can meet its deadline for a draft by January.

“There are the engineering issues,” says Mark Hoke, a management consultant with Hoke & Associates, who considers himself to be neutral. “And there is the politics. Some of these players have installed customer bases to think about. What they really need is a third party to arbitrate to bring them together.”

Right now most of the working group is standing behind one of two main proposals. One from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) that calls for the standard to be based on Cisco’s already implemented technology called spatial reuse protocol (SRP). The second proposal comes from a coalition of companies. Initially, this coalition was started by Lantern Communications Inc., Luminous Networks Inc., and Nortel, but after the July meeting in Portland others have joined including Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), NEC Electronics Inc., Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: VTSS) and Dynarc, adding more weight to the group’s proposals.

Cisco is not alone either, as its camp also gains momentum. Companies like Riverstone Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: RSTN), an Ethernet switch company and several semiconductor companies, including Mindspeed Technologies, Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) and Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC) (Nasdaq: AMCC, as well as systems startup Corrigent Systems, seem to have also jumped on board with support for all or some of Cisco’s proposal (see Cisco Rounds Up More RPR Support).

During the four-day meeting, the coalition jointly presented a series of papers providing the first comprehensive alternative to Cisco’s proposal. The new set of proposals highlights in more detail the issues in contention between the two camps. Specific areas debated included how to handle resiliency, transit design of packets, fairness algorithms, and determining precedence of traffic on ring topologies.

While there was much to debate, one thing was in agreement. Marrying the two proposals into a single standard draft will be a difficult task. The two approaches appear fundamentally different. Cisco’s implementation is based on a data switching architecture where RPR is viewed as a feature of a router or switch. The coalition’s approach is to build products to provide optimized Sonet pipes to service providers, allowing any kind of traffic including IP to be carried over a ring.

”There’s a lot to get done between now and November,” says John Hawkins, marketing manager for Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT). “Mike [Takefman, chair of the committee] needs to articulate how we can get from a series of different presentations to a single draft.”

Fundamentally, the two groups are trying to serve different customers, says Mike Takefman, manager of engineering for Cisco and chair of the IEEE 802.17 RPR working group.

“Our customers buy routers, and that’s who we are trying to serve,” he says. “We’re selling to a group of people who already have been convinced that networks of the future will be IP, but other companies are selling to customers who see the transition to IP as more evolutionary.”

Beyond the technological issues, there are also political issues pulling the two groups apart. This tension was felt during the question and answer periods after some of the presentations as people approaching the microphone often antagonized presenters.

“Our goal here is to come up with a single standard,” Robert Love, chairman of the Resilient Packet Ring Alliance told attendees at the end of the second day of meetings. “The antagonistic questions don’t help. We need to build trust. Questions should help clarify rather than attack an individual speaker.”

The political controversy centers around the fact that Cisco’s proposal is based on SRP, a solution that is already shipping on several different versions of Cisco switches and routers with over 13,000 ports deployed.

The reason for such resentment lies in the fact that some companies are worried that if Cisco pushes through its proposal with few changes, it will dominate the market, leaving many of the smaller players behind.

”We realized early on that you can’t come in like a bull, you won’t be well received,” says Hawkins of Nortel. “Our approach to the standards process has been different. We came into this knowing that we couldn’t propose a standard based on Optera. That may work in other groups, but not in the IEEE. It’s too individualistic.

Coming into this meeting, some people in the working group expected Cisco and Nortel to work out a compromise that would help move the entire standards process forward. But instead, Nortel decided to work with the coalition to develop a new proposal, which some say has divided the groups further.

“There were some feelers extended in the beginning and then we both agreed to disagree,” says Hawkins. “That doesn’t mean we won’t talk again in the future. Right now we’re both waiting for the other to blink. We’ll see what happens between now and November.”

Cisco seems to be making an effort to appease its critics to a certain degree. But some in the coalition say that Cisco hasn’t gone far enough.

“I think they are trying to change some things, but I think there are some internal politics,” says Nader Vijeh, senior vice president of research and development and CTO of Lantern. “I think people from the top don’t want them to change too much.”

With only one more interim meeting before the January deadline, the working group faces a daunting challenge. But those in the group realize the importance of getting a draft completed on time.

”Our customers are already asking for RPR,” says Riverstone’s Aybay. “If the draft of the standard isn’t completed on time, the technology could lose credibility, and people will solve the problem using other technology.”

— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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