Alcatel ATM Switch Steps Up
The announcement represents a second example of a core ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) switch being transformed into a monster multiservice product. The first example was unveiled almost a year ago when Marconi PLC (Nasdaq/London: MONI) announced its 480 Gbit/s BXR-48000 (see Marconi Unveils Big Switch/Router).
Until the present downturn, it was thought that ATM core switches like the 7670 would be replaced after a brief transition period by optical switches and routers. Now, in light of the current economic downturn, that transition period has become protracted. Carriers are under a mandate to roll out new IP-based services without changing their present infrastructure.
As a result, products are needed that can work both ends of a carrier's present data networking setup -- the connection-oriented frame relay and ATM services, and the connectionless IP and routing facilities.
This is no easy task, given the slew of protocols and connectivity requirements carriers now have in one box that's suited for the network core. "A lot of it has to do with matching multiprotocol capabilities with carrier class scalability," says Jim Lawrence, program director at Stratecast Partners.
In its latest release, Alcatel has attempted to address the problem on several fronts. First, it has added significant capacity and interfaces to the 7670. Formerly, the box was a stand-alone unit that supported up to 50 Gbit/s across multiple interface cards. Now, Alcatel has made the 7670 into a multishelf product, putting the switch fabric into its own box that supports up to 450 Gbit/s capacity, and adding interfaces in separate shelves.
According to Alcatel, the multishelf design is the most important feature of the new 7670, because it's the only way carriers can hope to get the combination of capacity and interfaces they require.
Among the interfaces Alcatel is now supporting are packet-over-Sonet (POS) OC48 (2.5 Gbit/s), gigabit Ethernet, and multiport DS3 (45 Mbit/s).
The 7670 also supports MPLS, and Alcatel claims it has been through a battery of interoperability tests at the Advanced Internet Lab at George Mason University. MPLS, they maintain, will be key to unifying the management of multiservice networks in which a range of protocols are used.
The new design also gives the 7670 features beyond the ATM core. "We support multiple services at the network edge," says Jim Guillet, VP of Alcatel's switched data networks group. Customers can make the most of what they have installed, he maintains, while extending their switching fabrics through the use of the add-on modules the 7670 now includes.
The Alcatel 7670 is expected to ship during the first quarter of 2002, spokespeople say.
On the downside, competitors point to the multishelf solution as bulky and costly to maintain. Équipe Communications Corp., insists that its 3200 unit supports more capabilities in a single 200-Gbit/s chassis than the 7670 supports in several racks.
Of course, this must be taken as one competitor's viewpoint. Still, the 7670 lacks support for OC192, although it does handle four OC48 cards together. The switch also doesn't support grooming of STS1 (51.8 Mbit/s) channels within Sonet links -- a much-needed function for many carriers. Équipe says its supports both features now.
Still, Alcatel deserves kudos, analysts say. The problem that Alcatel's addressing -- combining traditional ATM and circuit switching with packet support on a massive scale -- has proven cumbersome for more than one vendor.
Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), for instance, recently announced the discontinuation of its MSC 25000 core ATM switch, which competed with Alcatel's 7670 (see Lucent Bags High-End Switch). In bagging the switch, Lucent cited the need for a new architecture that supported MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) and IP in a single unit. Lucent reportedly is scrapping its older design for an entirely new product, but little information is available beyond this.
Other competitors in this space include Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), with the MGX 8850. "Cisco's product is great, but customers say it's too small," says Jim Lawrence.
One of the closest competitors to the 7670 is the Passport 15000 from Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT). Industry sources say this box supports many of the edge networking and aggregation capabilities Alcatel is touting for the new 7670. Still, it's smaller. A follow-on Passport 20000 is due later this year or early next and will offer a range of new features that will no doubt give competitors another point of comparison, for better or worse.
— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading