Corvis Offers Grooming Tips
The new switch has been under development since last summer when Corvis acquired Baylight Networks, a small startup designing optical network access systems and subsystems, says David Smith, vice president of hardware engineering (see Corvis Completes Baylight Acquisition).
The product, which is expected to go into alpha testing by the end of the year, is far enough along that Corvis has now leased an 88,000 square-foot research and development space for it in Columbia, Md.
“The engineers have been sharing space for a long time,” says Smith. “And they’ve been busting for their own space. Now that they’re getting closer to having something, they can’t continue to share a lab anymore.”
Corvis’s new switch extends the company’s existing product range, which embraces all-optical long-haul backbones. “We’re well aware that you can’t just stop at the core,” says Smith. The new switch will have an electrical rather than an optical core and will give service providers a way of feeding traffic on and off their optical backbones at the bandwidths they want -- multiples of STS1 (51.8 Mbit/s) channels.
Ciena was first to market with a switch capable of grooming STS1s in this way. It’s already shipping a version of its CoreDirector with 256x256 ports, each operating at OC48 (2.5 Gbit/s). And it’s announced a 64x64 switch operating at OC192 (10 Gbit/s).
Corvis has made no secret of its intention to develop a similar sort of switch but hasn't divulged details until now. Yesterday, however, Smith let slip some of the product specs. “Our switch is going to big,” he told Light Reading. “I can’t tell you specifics, but let’s just say 'big.' "
He claims the new switch will be able to scale to 512x512 ports. But he cautions that higher port counts may not be what customers need.
“I’m not sure that 512 ports running at OC192 are really necessary,” he says. “Our switch will be able to do that, absolutely. But no one is suggesting today that one feeder point could generate enough traffic to need that kind of capacity. I’m sure it could happen eventually, but things could be very different then.”
Corvis also plans to match Ciena's CoreDirector on granularity. Like CoreDirector, the new Corvis switch will handle STS1 channels, says Smith. Other vendors, such as Sycamore Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SCMR) and Tellium Inc., have started off with switches handling much fatter OC48 connections, and are now playing catchup with Ciena.
Smith agrees that granularity is an important aspect of any edge switch. “It’s really essential for any edge switch these days,” he says. He also says that Corvis’s version will be able to concatenate STS1s so that a bunch of them can operate as one big pipe.
Of course, it’s one thing to talk about upstaging Ciena’s CoreDirector and it’s another thing to actually do it. Developing ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits) for such big grooming switches is said to push the limits on semiconductor technology. Corvis has got its ASICs back from the foundry but has yet to complete tests to make sure they work as planned.
By the time Corvis ships its switch, the market also could be quite crowded. Semiconductor vendors are developing off-the-shelf ASICs for STS1 grooming switches (see Velio Breaks Grooming Barrier) -- and when these arrive, other system vendors are likely to jump on the bandwagon. The first among them could be Sycamore, which is already talking about a 512x512 switch capable of STS1 grooming. Startup BrightLink Networks Inc. has plans for an even bigger grooming switch based on a novel distributed architecture (see Brightlink Works on Its Grooming).
Financial analysts question whether Corvis has got deep enough pockets to see all of its product plans through to fruition. With over 1400 employees, five facilities, and two year’s worth of inventory the company may have a tough time keeping up if the current sluggish market conditions continue, they say.
In the quarter ending in September 2000 Corvis raised $1.1 billion in financing, but burned about $185 million. Figures aren’t yet available for the following quarter.
“Two hundred million is clearly a lot of money,” says Max Schuetz, an analyst with Thomas Weisel Partners. “You look around and everyone else is laying people off, and Corvis hasn’t made a big effort to cut costs. Either they have some big contracts that are imminent, or they are a bit more optimistic than we are about the length of this downturn.”
-- Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com