Ciena Continues Ethernet Push
Maybe that's a bit farfetched, but the former king of optical DWDM transport is talking up Ethernet more and more, as shown by this week's announcements of the CN 3000 access line and the CN 5060 carrier Ethernet platform. (See Ciena Unveils Strategy.)
Both systems are part of the FlexSelect architecture that's been slowly taking over Ciena's product portfolio. "FlexSelect" means gear that can send traffic of any type to arbitrary ports, creating a software-configurable network more agile than the old Sonet/SDH networks.
Ciena gets 77 percent of its revenues from optical gear, according to this week's earnings report. (See Ciena Spending Climbs, Stock Falls.) But "optical" can mean a lot of things, CEO Gary Smith says. The category includes the CN 4200, which can be used as an Ethernet transport box, for instance.
Granted, every equipment vendor is out to show some Ethernet moxie, now that carrier Ethernet is a hot category. Ciena pretty much has to join that camp if it's to keep up the "network specialist" identity it's tried to establish. (See Ciena Debuts New Look, New Message.) "I like what I have seen and heard on the Ethernet front out of Ciena over the past year, and I think the FlexSelect for Ethernet strategy should find a nice reception in the market," writes Stan Hubbard, Heavy Reading analyst, in an email to Light Reading. "Ciena has gained great market traction with their flagship Ethernet platform, the CN 4200, but that hasn’t translated into being widely identified as a leading provider of Ethernet solutions yet."
This doesn't mean Ciena is challenging Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO). Rather, Smith sees a chance for Ciena to provide the transport and aggregation -- "layers zero to two-and-a-half" -- for a carrier Ethernet network. That would include providing the technology to make Ethernet behave like Sonet/SDH, in terms of creating connections that will stay up in the event of line breaks.
Cisco has had similar ideas, but from the opposite direction, putting DWDM optics directly onto routers. (See DWDM Goes Pluggable.)
Ciena's 3000 series targets Ethernet access over copper or fiber and could be used as a demarcation box, pitting Ciena against vendors like Amedia Networks Inc. (OTC: AANI) . The CN 5060, the first instance of the previously announced CN 5000 line, takes the multiservice switching acquired with Wavesmith in 2003 and applies it to the Ethernet world.
Boxes like the CN 5060 will be the Wavesmith team's charter from now on. The DN series of multiservice boxes that Wavesmith originally built "would really focus more on traditional applications like ATM aggregation" from now on, says Tom Mock, Ciena's senior vice president of strategic planning.
One factor missing from Ciena's Ethernet pitch so far is Provider Backbone Transport (PBT), an upcoming standard for core-network transport that would give Ethernet the qualities of Sonet/SDH connections. Nortel Networks Ltd. and other vendors see PBT as a key element of carrier Ethernet plans, but other alternatives, such as Transport MPLS (TMPLS), are out there, too.
It's a noteworthy omission, given that BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) has noted that PBT is favored for its 21CN, and Ciena has been named a primary vendor for 21CN. (See BT Rethinks 21CN Core Strategy and BT Cashes In on 21CN.)
Smith explains by saying Ciena isn't yet ready to cast its support behind PBT or TMPLS. "Hopefully we'll see, over the course of the next six to 12 months, some convergence over what's the most efficient and effective way of doing that," Smith says.
That matches the stance Ciena took late last year, when PBT was becoming a hot item. (See Cisco Tracks PBT Standards Process.)
— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading