Optical/IP Networks

Astral Point Gets In A Mesh

BALTIMORE, MD.--Another multiservice provisioning vendor has dipped a toe into the MAN market. At the OFC 2000 conference here today, Astral Point Communications Inc. (http://www.astralpoint.com) announced the ON 5000 Optical Services Node. The vendor also stated that Advanced TelCom Group Inc. (ATG) (http://www.callatg.com), a multiservice carrier based in California, will beta-test the platform. If all expectations are met, the contract will be worth about $25 million to Astral Point (a figure almost as high as the $33 million in funding the vendor has raised to date).

But some sources question whether the ON 5000's key differentiating feature, the ability to support a mesh network topology in addition to Sonet-like rings, will really appeal to potential customers. "Carriers are more likely to be attracted to this product's service provisioning features than its support of mesh architectures," says Scott Clavenna, principal analyst at Pioneer Consulting LLC (http://www.pioneerconsulting.com). He adds that the ON 5000's differentiating factors may not be sufficient to carry the day against a growing legion of competitors.

The ON 5000 is one of a bunch of multiservice provisioning platforms (MSPPs) announced in recent months (see Sonet Goes POP). These devices reside in carrier POPs and COs and combine DWDM, Sonet, IP and -- in some cases -- ATM to reduce the cost and complexity of setting up and managing MAN services.

According to Astral Point, the ON 5000 cuts provisioning time by an order of magnitude compared to using a traditional Sonet configuration process. That process calls for all nodes on a ring to be configured one at a time, manually, from a cross-connect or add-drop multiplexer dedicated to the ring. Since Sonet rings don't support more than several nodes, the setup has fostered complex stacks of rings in many POPs and COs, and extensive queues for configuring services on a piecemeal basis. In contrast, Astral Point links switches in a mesh topology of up to several hundred nodes, where one platform can set up access to multiple services, and many nodes can be configured at once. Carriers also have the option to set up their nets in ring or star configurations if they prefer.

To streamline setup, the ON 5000 comes with a Java-based Optical Network Management System that runs on Windows NT and Solaris and comes with a provisioning wizard. "You give the service a name, select the endpoints, indicate the type of service you want, and you're ready to go," says Bill Mitchell, founder and vice president of marketing.

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