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Ethernet equipment

Cisco Beefs Up the Edge

LAS VEGAS -- Telecom '05 -- Stretching the carrier Ethernet concept from edge to edge, (Nasdaq: CSCO) today extended its product reach to blanket an entire service provider network with Ethernet.

At the Telecom '05 show today, Cisco announced the Supervisor Engine 32, a card for its 6500 and 7600 series boxes. It's a smaller and cheaper version of the Supervisor 720, a card offered for aggregation boxes, allowing service providers to offer carrier Ethernet in metro switches and routers.

Going even further to the edge, Cisco also debuted the ME 3400, an access box designed to put carrier Ethernet at the customer premises -- in the basement of a multitenant unit, for example.

The combination of the Supervisor 720, the Supervisor Engine 32, and the ME 3400 gives Cisco a carrier Ethernet offering spanning from edge to edge. "Rather than a point product, we're really targeting the three areas across the carrier network," says Mark Milinkovich, director of Cisco's products and technology marketing organization for service providers.

Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) is a key requirement for carrier Ethernet, but Cisco is adding other options such as Resilient Packet Ring (RPR), trying to give carriers more flexibility in how they wield Ethernet, Milinkovich says.

Cisco is hardly the only vendor taking carrier Ethernet closer to the edge. Riverstone Networks Inc. (OTC: RSTN.PK) recently unveiled its 15100 and 15200 series routers, smaller versions of its flagship 15008, to bring its MPLS technology into access networks. And the trend is likely to continue. (See Riverstone Aims for Access.)

"Those companies involved in providing equipment that supports business services will feel pressure to have an MPLS customer-located equipment solution or partner with someone who does," says Mark Seery, an analyst with Ovum-RHK Inc.

It's all a sign of carrier Ethernet becoming "the next great battleground" for wireline equipment, says Heavy Reading senior analyst Stan Hubbard. "The stakes are huge, because we are talking about a technology that not only is emerging as the universal service access jack to the MAN and WAN, but it also is playing a critical role in the transport and aggregation portions of next-generation networks."

Until now, cost has blocked carrier Ethernet gear from the edges of the network. Carriers had to choose between deploying expensive "carrier-grade" boxes at the customer premises or settling for enterprise-class gear lacking in carrier features. To the latter point, some carriers used Cisco's 3550 or 3750 enterprise switches for the customer premises.

The ME 3400 is different in that it can isolate each subscriber on a different port. "With a regular switch you'd have to do funky things like put everybody on a different VLAN," says Brendan Gibbs, Cisco's director of product management.

More boxes like it could be on the way. "We’re seeing stepped-up efforts on the part of vendors to address this MTU market, because it appears poised to grow as enterprises transition from legacy services to Ethernet and as carriers look for cost-effective solutions for bringing high concentrations of consumer customers onto the network," says Hubbard.

Separately, Cisco's announcement today included 10-Gbit/s interfaces for the Catalyst 4500, 7600, and XR 12000 systems, as well as new 10/100-Mbit/s Ethernet interfaces for the ONS 15454.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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