Optical/IP Networks

ATM & MPLS Forums Merge

Some private chuckles are likely to be had today, on the news that the MPLS/Frame Relay Alliance and ATM Forum are planning to merge (see ATM, MPLS/Frame Relay Forums Merge).

From one perspective, the merger makes a lot of sense, because most vendors have morphed their Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) switches into multiservice switch/routers and are singing the same tune on how Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) will underpin tomorrow's converged telecom networks. So the forums have overlapping memberships. From another perspective, however, some technology gurus will probably think: "I told you so." A few years ago, they were warning that MPLS was in danger of being hijacked by the folk that led the development of ATM astray.

One of those was Mike O'Dell, a former network architect of UUnet (now part of MCI Inc.). O'Dell had a really good rant about MPLS becoming a "Frankenstein monster" in a memo that was published in a memorable Light Reading column in August 2001 (see The Monster Memo).

The column cited a Light Reading Research Poll taken by 1,225 readers, in which 37 percent of respondents agreed with a statement saying "MPLS will end up just like ATM - a big ball of hair" (see MPLS - Just Kidding? and Poll: Is MPLS BS?).

Other MPLS skeptics include Peter Lothberg, a guru who advised Sprint Corp. (NYSE: FON) to offer IP VPNs without using MPLS; and Karl Schrodis, head of the "KING" project in Germany that's investigating alternatives to MPLS. Schrodis, an employee of Siemens Information and Communications Networks Inc., probably has to keep his views on MPLS to himself these days (see MPLS Gets Lukewarm Reviews and MPLS: King for a Day?).

The press release announcing the planned merger of the MPLS/Frame Relay and ATM forums says the consolidated association will "advance the deployment of multi-vendor, multi-service, packet-based networks, associated applications and interworking solutions". This suggests that the new body might extend its remit beyond Layer 2 technologies, possibly encroaching on the turf of the Multiservice Switching Forum and the International Packet Communications Consortium (IPCC).

The influence of these forums was the subject of a recent Light Reading poll (see Industry Forums: Useful or Useless?). The relevant results, after 223 responses are as follows:

Table 1: Influence of Forums
A lot Quite a lot A Little None at all Don't know
ATM Forum 8.52% 15.25% 35.43% 27.80% 13.00%
MPLS/Frame Relay Alliance 14.61% 28.77% 33.33% 14.16% 9.13%
International Packet Communications Consortium 2.31% 4.17% 19.91% 39.35% 34.26%
Multiservice Switching Forum 6.16% 8.53% 33.65% 27.01% 24.64%
Source: Light Reading

Not surprisingly, the MPLS/Frame Relay Alliance carries more clout than the ATM Forum. "It's not like the heyday of the ATM Forum when there were thousands of submissions, but there's still ongoing work," says Gary Leonard, vice president of marketing for the MPLS/FR Alliance. And both organizations easily outgun the Multiservice Switching Forum. The IPCC does really poorly.

Apparently, no name has been agreed upon for the merged MPLS and ATM forums, so here's a suggestion: Think big and rope in the Multiservice Switching Forum and International Packet Communications Consortium as well, and call it "The Convergence Caboodle."

Officials did confirm that the new organization would not be called the MPLSFRATM Forum.

If readers have other suggestions for the merged forums' new name, please post them on the message board.

— Peter Heywood, Founding Editor, Light Reading

For further education, visit the archives of related Light Reading Webinars:

gigeguy 12/5/2012 | 1:27:01 AM
re: ATM & MPLS Forums Merge No matter what was said back three years ago (is that the most recent MPLS criticism you can find?), MPLS has proved to be a market success. Cisco alone claims to have sold over $3B of MPLS equipment, and have hundreds of service provider deployments, including at both Mike's and Peter's old companies. And MPLS has been helping Juniper sell their stuff as well. As Yakov Rekhter likes to say, the proof is in the pudding, not talking about it. So it's Yakov that should be saying I told you so, not Mike and Peter.
particle_man 12/5/2012 | 1:27:01 AM
re: ATM & MPLS Forums Merge If you add an "i", TRAMP FILMS is an anagram.

Add an "u" and you can make SMART FLUMP. That has a nice ring to it.
rajsharma 12/5/2012 | 1:26:58 AM
re: ATM & MPLS Forums Merge Its certainly interesting to see this union. However, LR is making it more sensational than it is. Its just the good old layer 2 connections
oriented folks getting together.

fredfrenzy 12/5/2012 | 1:26:58 AM
re: ATM & MPLS Forums Merge Absolutely. Certainly NA providers with large frame/atm networks believe MPLS will give them the migration path they need to new deliver MPLS based private data services that are optimized for IP packet traffic. Alcatel/Newbridge had a MPLS/IP core in their 7670 for a long time....but they are selling it now (although not all Carriers will talk about it) as the last upgrade of their ATM/Multiservice networks.
imref 12/5/2012 | 1:26:56 AM
re: ATM & MPLS Forums Merge One of the most interesting observations at last month's "Supercomm" was the lack of MPLS-related hype in the exhibit hall. I spoke to a few folks about this and the general consensus was that MPLS "won" the battle for the core of the service provider network and the industry had moved on to focus on things like VoIP & triple play. Almost every network architecture diagram that was posted showed a network core based on IP/MPLS.

Look at major announcements from AT&T & MCI among others to migrate their networks to an IP/MPLS core. ATM is dead, it lost, it's over, accept it, get over it, the moose out front should have told you so.
FinBurger 12/5/2012 | 1:26:55 AM
re: ATM & MPLS Forums Merge It should be obvious to everybody that MPLS is merely ATM with packets rather than cells, and with less jitter control.

(And, guess what happens when those packets go into a switch fabric? Turned into cells...)

The funny thing is that the same people and equipment companies that tore mercilessly at ATM have adoped MPLS. I guess the size of the telco's capital budget convinced them to accept connections. They are a necessary complexity when you want a network to earn its living.
priam 12/5/2012 | 1:26:54 AM
re: ATM & MPLS Forums Merge MPLS:
1) label stacking -> deep hierarchy
2) defined for multiple L2s, including Ethernet
3) IP signaling

Other than that, they're identical ;-)

It should be obvious to everybody that MPLS is merely ATM with packets rather than cells, and with less jitter control.
coreghost 12/5/2012 | 1:26:51 AM
re: ATM & MPLS Forums Merge Its certainly interesting to see this union. However, LR is making it more sensational than it is. Its just the good old layer 2 connections
oriented folks getting together.

I dont think its even very interesting. These
groups were linked since the MPLS forum was
started and more than anything, I think this is
an admission on their part that their efforts to
change MPLS have failed.

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