Alcatel Pushes Ethernet-Over-MPLS

Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) today announced two new products targeting the delivery of Ethernet-based services -- the Alcatel 7450 Ethernet Service Switch and the Alcatel 1662 Packet Ring Switch (see Alcatel Unveils Metro Ethernet Products).

In both cases, Alcatel has built Ethernet-only versions of existing multiservice edge products, with a view to bringing down the cost of using Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) to provide virtual private line and virtual private LAN Ethernet services.

The idea is that the cost reduction will encourage carriers to extend the use of MPLS-based equipment in their networks, towards customers. This is at the expense of using pure Ethernet switches, which are less expensive than MPLS-based edge devices but don't have such a strong story in terms of scaleability, resilience, and support for service-level guarantees.

Alcatel 7450 Ethernet Service Switch

This is an Ethernet-only version of the TiMetra box, the Alcatel 7750 Service Router. In other words, it uses MPLS signaling to set up Ethernet point-to-point and multipoint virtual networks, but it doesn't do any routing and thus doesn't support Layer 3 IP VPNs or IP multicasts, as the TiMetra box does. Neither does it support the delivery of Frame Relay and ATM services.

Alcatel says that for a typical Ethernet-only application, the 7450 will be "up to 30 percent" less expensive than the 7750.

Lindsay Newell, director of product marketing for Alcatel's IP division, characterizes the 7450 as a "service aggregation" box and the 7750 as a "core edge" device and says they'll often work together in the same network.

The lower cost of the 7450 extends the benefits of MPLS towards customers. Those benefits include: sub-50-millisecond rerouting of traffic around failures (much faster than pure Ethernet rerouting technologies such as Spanning Tree); rapid service provisioning, courtesy of Alcatel's existing management system; and per-service, hierarchical quality-of-service, accounting, and OA&M (operations, administration, and maintenance).

These benefits really come into play when MPLS can be extended end-to-end, and Alcatel's 7450 won't go that far in the majority of cases. So far, there are two models:

  • The 7450 ESS-7, an eight-rack-unit (14-inch-high) chassis with two switch fabric slots, 10 interface half slots, and a switching capacity of up to 200 Gbit/s
  • The 7450 ESS-1, a 1.5-RU (2.625-inch-high) integrated box with two interface half slots and a switching capacity of 20 Gbit/s
The 7450 ESS-1 could be used as high-end customer located equipment (CLE), but Newell says this would be out-of-the-ordinary. "In the long term, we believe MPLS will go all the way to the CLE," he says, implying that an even lower-cost box would be required.

At least two other vendors already have Ethernet-over-MPLS products that could be used as CLE according to Geoff Bennett, chief technologist for Heavy Reading, who happens to have recently surveyed equipment in this space. They are the Cisco 3750 from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and the RS1000 and RS1100 from Riverstone Networks Inc. (OTC: RSTN.PK).

Bennett points out that extending MPLS from the edge of the core to the service aggregation level, as Alcatel has done, brings some benefits anyhow, because it avoids having to backhaul packet-based traffic in order to switch it.

Until carriers can reap the benefits of end-to-end MPLS, a lot of them are probably going to stick with providing Ethernet services using next-generation Sonet/SDH, rather than MPLS, Bennett adds. "As Alcatel already has a strong position in the SDH market, its account managers will have to be careful to pitch the right strategy to the right customer."

Alcatel says TeliaSonera International Carrier (TIC), a major Scandinavian service provider, is already trialing the 7450. It's being used to offer managed Ethernet services to business users and to aggregate Ethernet traffic from DSLAM-based broadband consumer services. General availability is planned by "the end of Q3," according to Newell.

Alcatel 1662 Packet Ring Switch

This product targets non-North American markets only, as it's for carriers with SDH, as opposed to Sonet, infrastructure. It enables them to offer MPLS-based Ethernet services that run over Resilient Packet Ring Technology, which in turn runs over existing STM-4 (622 Mbit/s) rings. It also enables carriers to offer Ethernet services in areas where they don't already have SDH infrastructure.

This is another instance of Alcatel developing an Ethernet-only version of an existing multiservice product, in this case its Optical Multiservice Node (OMSN) family. The 1662 PRS is the OMSN minus its support for TDM services, ATM switching, and SAN extension technologies.

Stefano Schiavoni, VP of product strategy for Alcatel's optical networks division, says it's the next step in the evolution from circuit to packet telecom networks. Carriers started with TDM-only add/drop multiplexers. Then they introduced platforms like the OMSN that could furnish circuit- and packet-based services. Now they want to reduce costs and complete the transition with packet-only platforms.

The 1662 is available now, and has already been deployed by some customers, according to Vinay Rathore, Alcatel's director of strategic marketing for fixed communications. It's managed by Alcatel's 1350 system, the same one used to manage OMSN products.

— Peter Heywood, Founding Editor, Light Reading

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xbar 12/5/2012 | 1:37:09 AM
re: Alcatel Pushes Ethernet-Over-MPLS Peter,

You are right if you look at RPR layer 2, but all services are Layer 3 based and they will work without force-fitting them using Layer 2 tunnels.

Besides, isn't Alcatel's strategy locking customers in their network management solution with L2 over MPLS as they did with their SDH networks?

fturriaf 12/5/2012 | 1:37:20 AM
re: Alcatel Pushes Ethernet-Over-MPLS
Say_Yes_2_MPLS & all,

Some clarifications/confirmations from the past messages:

Alcatel 7450 ESS is a MPLS-based Ethernet Service Switch which fully supports L2 MPLS-based services like VLL (draft-martini) as well as VPLS (draft-vpls). Both strictly aligned with standards (see MPLS Forum 2003 tests).

Naturally it fully supports IGP like OSPF/ISIS TE for proper MPLS/MPLSTE/MPLSFRR setting-up, etc. Its only difference against Alcatel 7750 SR (same product family) is the support for L3 VPNs (RFC2547 bis), which is translated (as already mentioned) with no-BGP support.

Other differences like specific/optimized interfaces for Metro Space exists on A7450 because its positioning in MetroEthernet arena (i.e. more dense GigaEthernet modules, etc.)

In regard where/how IP routing/signalling is done, as every packet processing in the boxes (A7450 & A7750) it is done @wire-speed on Network Processor presents en each line card.

Consequently performance is is not affected because enabling any feature like filters, QoS processing, etc., on the box.

Other remarkable features of the boxes (77750 & 7450) includes Hierarchical QoS -8000 Queues per interface-module- & MPLS/Service OAM tools -Service, LDP, SDP, MAC pings-.

More info:


Hope it clarify any open concern you may have,


Peter Heywood 12/5/2012 | 1:37:26 AM
re: Alcatel Pushes Ethernet-Over-MPLS xbar said: "Why should Alcatel embrace RPR? Such a move will make its whole EoMPLS strategy redundant?"

My understanding is that RPR is used to carry traffic between devices on a *single* ring.

MPLS provides a way of creating virtual connections or tunnels over multiple rings (or other topologies).

So you can set up an MPLS connection that's carried over an RPR ring, then over some Sonet/SDH rings and then maybe over another RPR ring.

ie, these technologies aren't mutually exclusive.

xbar 12/5/2012 | 1:37:31 AM
re: Alcatel Pushes Ethernet-Over-MPLS Why should Alcatel to embrace RPR? Such a move will make itswhole EoMPLS strategy redundant?

BTW, I believe that the Alcatel approach will not be cheaper or scale to support real Ethernet services compared to RPR approaches.
particle_man 12/5/2012 | 1:37:47 AM
re: Alcatel Pushes Ethernet-Over-MPLS Say_Yes,

Thanks, that clears it up.

Some of these combinations seem to mix the stack up a bit and at first glance seem to be a bit obscure especially at the framing layer - PWE3 variants for instance. With people trying so hard not to use the term SONET (even if using it to only for framing) it is sometimes hard to figure out what layer is doing what these days.
gbennett 12/5/2012 | 1:37:48 AM
re: Alcatel Pushes Ethernet-Over-MPLS Comrades,
Is there anything proprietary going on in the new Alcatel RPR product? Well, probably. If my understanding of RPR is correct you cannot mix Vendor A and Vendor B RPR boxes in the same ring.

I'm sure there are exceptions to this (not least because there are technology partnerships like Native-Alcatel and Cisco-Riverstone).

Should we expect interoperability at this level? Well, I guess not. If you think about it, you don't usually mix two different vendors' SONET or SDH ADMs in the same ring either.

Between rings is different - as long as the RPR implementation isn't "pre-standard" then you're in good shape to achieve interoperability. But I think you also lose QoS at that point if I'm not mistaken. Some vendors have announced fixes for this, but they are - you guessed it - proprietary :-)

I'm not up to date on RPR the way I used to be, so please feel free to correct me.

gbennett 12/5/2012 | 1:37:49 AM
re: Alcatel Pushes Ethernet-Over-MPLS Comrades,
I don't thknk there's anything proprietary going on in the 7450 (or, at least no more than usual - remember all this VPLS stuff is still in draft).

The way I understand this is that there is a move (not just within Alcatel) towards using MPLS Control Plane protocols to set up Layer 2 Ethernet services. In order to achieve customer traffic separation (and help with stuff like QoS and OAM), VPLS encapsulation is used (which in turn is based on Martini).

MPLS control plane messages (LDP or BGP for signalling of VPLS tunnels) will need to be routed across the switch. Do they pass across a "fast" or "slow" path? Not sure I can answer that because it depends on the way the product works, and if caching is done, etc. It shouldn't matter that much because these packets are only used to set up VPLS tunnels, which should be very long-lived.

Of course there needs to be a Denial of Service protection mechanism to protect the Control Plane against deliberate flooding, but that applies to both Fast and Slow implementations.

So the idea is that the 7450 is very much VPLS-focussed. But then, that's not a big surprise as Alcatel (Timetra) had a big hand in VPLS development.

priam 12/5/2012 | 1:37:49 AM
re: Alcatel Pushes Ethernet-Over-MPLS To judge from tmc1's comment it appears moot. That aside, there are actually a few boxes out there that do as suggested. They typically put the CPU on a switch port with ACLs etc that give it the control traffic suitably (one hopes) throttled. Don't take me for an advocate :-)

Good point. Yes Alcatel may have reprogrammed the fast path packet forwarding chips not to forward packets based on IP addresses and therefore force IP packets to use the slow path. I personally doubt this though, what are the benefits of doing this? Surely it makes more sense to let control/mgnt traffic use the fastpath in order to take advantage of its policing, ACL, and queuing capabilities?
Say_Yes_2_MPLS 12/5/2012 | 1:37:50 AM
re: Alcatel Pushes Ethernet-Over-MPLS Particle_man said: " So last I heard, an ethernet frame didn't have a label. In this case MPLabelS is going to struggle a bit."

I think perhaps you are assuming that the 1662 or 7450 only support Ethernet switching and therefore some proprietary mechanism must be used to encode the MPLS label and forward the packets.

This is not the case, the 1662 supports standard MPLS switching and Ethernet access over a STM-4 RPR ring. The 7450 supports standard MPLS switching over Ethernet.

The MPLS packet including label(s) is carried inside an Ethernet frame. Packets are switched at the Data Link/MAC layer based on the destination address in the Ethernet header. Packets are switched at the MPLS layer using labels (the Ethernet header is stripped-off before and added-on after MPLS switching takes place).
Say_Yes_2_MPLS 12/5/2012 | 1:37:51 AM
re: Alcatel Pushes Ethernet-Over-MPLS Scolwell: " There is a big difference between a forwarding table that can hold full routes and one that can hold your own infrastructure routes."

I didn't say there wasn't a difference. I simply stated that the 7450 must support routing to be able to support MPLS signalling, thatGÇÖs it.

Scolwell: "All the 7450 needs is routing for signalling which can be done safely in s/w."

Incorrect. The 7450 needs to be able to route packets for all IP management and control traffic, e.g. OSPF, SNMP, ICMP, etc. Also, routing is always done in software using a routing protocol or an automated OSS (or manually). Routing refers to the calculation of a path(s) to a specific destination. Packet forwarding/switching using software or hardware based tables is a separate issue.

Scolwell: "The saving is in avoiding the need for carrying an internet routing table or many fragmented enterprise VPN routing tables."

Yes, or more accurately, the saving is in avoiding the need to support BGP and RFC2547.
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