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Optical/IP

Alcatel Taps Layer 2

Continuing to stuff more features onto its 7750 Service Router, is releasing software today that cranks up support for Layer 2 services (see Alcatel Upgrades Routers ).

The new features for the 7750 and the 5620 Services Availability Manager (SAM) reflect the persistence of older services. Carriers are keen on moving all customer traffic to a converged network based on Internet Protocol (IP) and Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) but have always known the migration would be slow. In the past couple of years, it's become increasingly clear just how slow, prompting Layer 3 plays such as Alcatel's to show a little more love for Layer 2.

"Convergence is going to be a reality, but it's going to be a long-term challenge," says Lindsay Newell, vice president of marketing for Alcatel's IP division.

Today's release includes Layer 2 service interworking to the 7750, allowing Alcatel to mix connections among Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), Frame Relay, and Ethernet services.

Alcatel also says it's bringing high availability to Layer 2, an extension of the non-stop routing added to the 7750 in April (see Alcatel Eyes Video Market). Non-stop routing involves preserving state for a BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) session; at Layer 2, the idea is to preserve the state of all VPLS connections in the event of a failure.

"They're getting ahead of the market by doing this not just for one instance of BGP, but for all your virtual routers," says Mark Seery, an analyst with Ovum-RHK Inc.

Seery notes that router-market leaders and appear to be behind Alcatel in this area. But Riverstone Networks Inc. (OTC: RSTN.PK) claims it already has Layer 2 high availability as part of its Hitless Protection System capability.

Additionally, all three companies support graceful restart, an Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) mechanism for rebuilding a crashed router's tables by tapping neighboring routers for help. Alcatel still doesn't support graceful restart, but today's release does add a "graceful restart helper" mode, which lets the 7750 participate in a neighboring router's graceful restart process -- just trying to be a good neighbor, in a sense.

As for why Alcatel isn't adding graceful restart itself, Newell claims the 7750's non-stop routing renders the feature unnecessary, as the router shouldn't ever be in a position where it needs to reconstruct routing tables from scratch.

Finally, the Alcatel release includes support for ATM and Frame Relay pseudowires, supplementing the Ethernet pseudowire capabilities already present in the 7750.

The new features are likely to prompt one of the usual debates surrounding routers -- namely, whether they're too costly for this kind of Layer 2 work, considering they carry the inherent expense of IP routing. Vendors such as Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN), Hammerhead Systems Inc., and Riverstone Networks Inc. (OTC: RSTN.PK), have developed similar equipment that's focused primarily at Layer 2, citing lower cost as a reason.

Separately, Alcatel plans to announce two wins for the 7750 today: Elisa Corp., in Finland, and Turk Telekomunikasyon A.S., in Turkey. In general, Alcatel has gotten quite a bit of mileage from the 7750 router line, with Ovum-RHK saying Alcatel could have a lock on the No. 3 spot in routers by year's end (see Alcatel Claims No. 3 Spot).

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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