Équipe Switches Paths
The company says a software upgrade in its E3200 switch allows the box to support label-switched routing, giving it the ability to handle MPLS-marked IP traffic along with native ATM and Frame Relay traffic (see Équipe Supports Label Switch Routing).
This is quite a reversal for Équipe, which has contended since its inception that it didn’t need to support IP to deliver MPLS services (see Équipe: Take the ATM Road to MPLS). The company’s theory was that it could take existing Frame Relay and ATM traffic and map it into MPLS tunnels while preserving the end-to-end signaling and provisioning inherent in ATM.
Équipe's philosophy worked for ATM-only networks, but not for carriers that had even the smallest amount of native IP traffic running on their networks. Now the company's switch can support labeled Layer 3 IP traffic.
Obviously, Équipe's meetings with real carriers helped change its mind. “Ideally, we’re looking for a box that can do native ATM and Frame Relay switching, as well as IP routing,” says Bart Hawkins, general manager of new technology introduction at SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC), which is currently evaluating Équipe's E3200.
Équipe's new interest in IP puts it in closer competition with core routing vendors, such as Avici Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: AVCI; Frankfurt: BVC7), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR), that offer ATM interfaces and ATM/MPLS interworking on their routers (see Avici Intros Multiservice Line Cards).
“There’s a mindset that routers are required for MPLS,” says Chris Ford, senior product manager at Équipe. “Most carriers already have routers in their IP networks, and they are using MPLS on those boxes for traffic engineering. But because a router has MPLS, doesn’t mean that it can guarantee quality of service for ATM and Frame Relay.”
Ford says Équipe's switch can assign a separate label-switched path (LSP) to each customer, which allows the carrier to stand behind service-level agreements and accurately troubleshoot network problems. Routers, however, lump all the circuits into one LSP, costing carriers control of each individual circuit. The distinction is important, Ford says, because his company's gear will give carriers the ability to see more detailed information about the traffic that's traversing their networks.
While Ford denigrates routers for their treatment of traffic, he adds that Équipe is not trying to replace IP routers. The LSR function allows IP traffic on the E3200 to be handled just as it would be handled in an IP router. Ford says there is a place for routers in the network and for routers using MPLS. However, he says, a switched architecture is better when migrating legacy ATM traffic onto an MPLS network.
Some service providers agree. Hawkins of SBC says that the choice of using an IP router or a multiservice switch really depends on the network. “We plan to proceed with deploying IP routers in parts of the network where we already have a decent amount of IP,” he says. “This is typically our in-region network. There would be no reason for us to deploy an Équipe or any other ATM switch there.”
But he says that in the out-of-region network, where there is a lot of ATM mixed in with some IP, an Équipe-type box would make sense. Hawkins says SBC is already committed to using Cisco routers for its IP edge and core network, but it’s still evaluating multiservice switches for the ATM migration (see Cisco and SBC: What's the Big Deal?).
Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), Marconi Corp. plc (Nasdaq/London: MONI), and Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) are taking a similar approach to Équipe's in addressing the multiservice market (see Switch Vendors to Tackle Core Routing). Alcatel’s 7670 Routing Switch Platform (RSP), supports combined ATM switching and IP routing. Marconi’s BXR-48000 also provides ATM switching and IP routing. And Nortel has added IP routing to its Passport 20000 multiservice switch.
Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) had a multiservice switch, the TMX 880 Multiservice Exchange Switch, but it cancelled that product and is now teaming with Juniper to create a solution.
There are also a large number of edge players that are going after the multiservice market, including Laurel Networks Inc.; Vivace Networks, which was bought by Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA); and WaveSmith Networks Inc., now a part of Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN).
“There are quite a few vendors that can interwork or switch both ATM and IP,” says Hawkins. “But the problem is they do too much.”
In particular, Hawkins says he isn’t interested in boxes that combine multiservice MPLS switching and B-RAS (broadband remote access server) functionality. “It’s like buying your daughter a Cadillac to drive back and forth to college when all she needs is a Volkswagen,” he says. “It’s too much buck for the bang.”
— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading