Alcatel’s newly renamed 7770 Optical Broadband Exchange (OBX) is roughly half the size of its original core routing product and features ACEIS (Alcatel Carrier Environment Internet System), a technique Alcatel claims speeds reconnection around failed links (see Alcatel Unveils New Routing Technology). The new kit is being trialed by SingTel, Alcatel says, and should be adopted by existing 7770 customers Beijing Telecom and European Research Network (ATRIUM).
Can these changes boost Alcatel's market share? Don’t be so sure they can’t, analysts say.
By most accounts, more than 90 percent of the segment Alcatel’s targeting is ruled by two leading router players, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR). Avici Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: AVCI; Frankfurt: BVC7) has come in as a tiny but persistent third for years, with less than 3 percent of the market in most research reports. Depending on whom you ask, Alcatel’s 7770 may or may not share a minuscule sliver of the “Others” piece of the pie.
Infonetics Research Inc., for instance, figures Alcatel got 1 percent of worldwide core router sales last quarter -- not a lot, given the research firm’s calculation of market size as $306 million in that period (a 4 percent sequential shrinkage).
But Alcatel's claim can't be dismissed, says Kevin Mitchell, directing analyst at Infonetics. "They're a major worldwide supplier and they've been working on this for awhile."
Others agree. "I think there's room for other contenders in this market. Alcatel is thinking long term... and they recognize the deficiencies in present products," says Mark Bieberich, senior analyst at Yankee Group. Bieberich says Alcatel's pitch hits squarely at performance and reliablity, two problems that have haunted core IP router vendors, particularly as the downturn has worsened.
Indeed, some pundits worried earlier this year that carriers, fed up with installing two routers at every node to achieve redundant backup, will hold off buying core routers until they see better architectures emerge (see Rotten at the Core? ).
“I think Alcatel’s IP reliability technology will be a very compelling feature for major IP operators. It looks good enough to get them into labs and perhaps help them win business down the road,” Bieberich asserts.
Alcatel isn't alone, though, in tackling carriers’ complaints. Cisco announced nonstop forwarding and instant switchover in its Globally Resilient IP marketing pitch last spring (see Cisco Intros Globally Resilient IP). Juniper's shrunk its product, too, and says it's been on the reliability case for months (see Juniper Shrinks Its SuperCore Router). “We haven’t given our strategy a marketing name -- we stick with terms the carriers use like 'graceful restart' and 'five nines reliability,' " says Kevin Dillon, director of product marketing at Juniper. He says issues of redundancy and high-speed forwarding are top priority at Juniper. "We are totally committed on all fronts and we continue to add R&D."
The table below shows how Alcatel's claims stack up against comparable claims for its key rivals:
Table 1: Comparing Core Routers
|Alcatel 7770 OBX||OC48: 48; OC192: 12||320 Gbit/s||Single shelf chassis, 38.5 x 23 x 23.6 inches; 470 pounds|
|Cisco GSR 12416||OC48: 64; OC192: 16||320 Gbit/s||Single chassis; 72.5 x 18.75 x 24 inches; 390 pounds|
|Juniper T640||OC48: 128; OC192: 32||640 Gbit/s||Multi-chassis; half rack measures 37.45 x 17.43 by 31 inches; 565 pounds|
|Source: Optical Oracle and respective vendors|
Alcatel has much to prove. Its first 7770 OBX customer, SingTel, is also both a Cisco and Juniper customer. Further, Alcatel hasn't validated its new router or ACEIS technology with industry testing, while Cisco and Juniper continue to participate in third-party and open forum tests (see MPLS Vendors Demo Fast Reroute).
An Alcatel spokeswoman says it's currently testing ACEIS with BTexact Technologies but couldn't say when results might be available.
Still, it would be a mistake to discount Alcatel too soon, sources say. "I think what Alcatel announced today is a dramatic improvement over the previous incarnation of this product," writes program director Mark Seery of RHK Inc. in an email today. "Alcatel has the ability to support this product over an extended period of time if they so choose... plus their legacy base earns them a seat at the table."
Seery also points, as others have, to chinks in the armor of major players (see Juniper's Kriens: RBOCs Are Ours and Multiservice Cisco ). At the very least, Alcatel could help build a fire under Cisco and Juniper. "The incumbent IP vendors are not where they need to be with respect to key issues going forward," he writes. "They need to make sure they attack these problems quickly and effectively, if they wish to close the window of opportunity for a company such as Alcatel."
— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading