AT&T Closer to 'One' With Itself
On Wednesday, Hossein Eslambolchi, chief technology officer of AT&T and the chief information officer and president of AT&T Research Labs, updated analysts and press on the company’s progress toward selecting technology to make its “Concept of One” converged MPLS network a reality.
“We have now narrowed our list down to about two vendors," he said. "And we are testing those in our laboratories. I’m not at liberty to say which two vendors have been kept, but we are very close to selecting one and potentially even two vendors.”
Eslambolchi said he expects to deploy these new multiservice edge devices during the first quarter of 2004. A converged Layer 2 and Layer 3 MPLS architecture is expected to be implemented and completed sometime in the middle of 2004.
Eslambolchi first discussed AT&T’s Concept of One back in March, when he characterized it as a network design that will consolidate current legacy ATM and Frame Relay networks onto an MPLS backbone (see AT&T’s New Gods).
A key element to this network convergence is a box called a multiservice edge device, which would take multiple services and feed them into a MPLS core network. Many people in the industry have labeled these devices “God boxes" because they combine a variety of functions, including support for both Layer 2 and Layer 3 services. They also need to be scaleable, with enough capacity to handle up to 400 Gbit/s worth of throughput.
That's nice and all, but who might the two finalists be?
Eslambolchi had some hints. He mentioned that the initial stage of the network convergence will focus on IP, since the carrier must first address its IP VPN services. One might infer that the products AT&T is considering would be IP-based, as opposed to being ATM or cell-based products. Second, he mentioned the rash of startup acquisitions in this product category, which might suggest that the company is looking at some of these combined companies as potential suppliers.
Here’s a breakdown of the top contenders, in the view of Light Reading (in no particular order):
Alcatel/TiMetra: Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) has supplied AT&T with digital crossconnects for a long time. The buzz around the industry is that AT&T likes working with Alcatel and has pushed for several startups to partner with the company. Back in May, Alcatel bought IP edge routing startup, TiMetra (see Alcatel & TiMetra Seal the Deal). Now Alcatel has a highly scaleable set of IP edge devices that support Layer 3 routing as well as Layer 2 aggregation and interworking -- a perfect fit for the multiservice edge solution (see TiMetra Shoots for Service Edge).
Cisco: When it comes to IP, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is almost always considered as a top choice. What’s more, AT&T built its current IP infrastructure mostly with Cisco routers. The carrier is also using Cisco ATM switches to provide IP-enabled Frame Relay services. Two of Cisco’s products are likely candidates for the multiservice edge: the Cisco 10000 and the GSR 12000. Cisco has introduced several new edge features and ATM functionality onto these platforms within the last year (see Cisco GSR 12000 Sent to the Edge).
Ciena/Laurel Networks: Laurel Networks Inc. has the right technology features and capacity. And now it has the final piece of the puzzle: a partnership with an established vendor. Just yesterday, Laurel announced a reseller agreement with Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN) (see Ciena Takes Stake in Laurel). Ciena already supplies AT&T with optical gear (see Ciena Signs AT&T... at Last).
Tellabs/Vivace: Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA) has strengthened its IP/MPLS position with the acquisition of Vivace Networks (see Tellabs Snags Vivace for $135M). Vivace’s Viva5100 and Viva1050 IP/MPLS multiservice switches are designed to aggregate and switch Ethernet, ATM, and Frame Relay access traffic and hand that traffic off to an IP/MPLS-routed network or an ATM-switched backbone (see Lehman Likes Tellabs/Vivace). This fits the AT&T requirement almost to a tee. But unlike the other companies listed, Tellabs doesn’t have a strong relationship with AT&T, which could potentially hurt it in the bidding process.
Lucent/Juniper: Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) offers multiservice functionality on its ERX IP edge routing platform. And Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) certainly has the legacy ATM technology. The two companies announced a partnership last spring and vowed to integrate management of their products to help facilitate network convergence (see Lucent Partners With Juniper). But some critics say that Juniper's ERX is not scaleable enough to satisfy AT&T's multiservice edge requirements.
When Eslambolchi first started talking about multiservice edge devices, most of the vendors addressing this product category were startups. Since then, incumbent vendors have either bought or partnered with many of these upstarts.
“Six months ago it looked like AT&T would have to wait a long while to find the right kind of product,” says Kevin Mitchell, an analyst with Infonetics Research Inc. “Back then it was all startups. None of the bigger companies had the right combination of products to fit the requirement. But that’s changed.”
— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading