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Brightlink: My Switch Is Bigger Than Yours

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A debate over who's making the biggest optical switch will take a new turn next Monday (March 27) when Brightlink Networks, Inc. -- until now called Corvia Networks http://www.corvia.com -- plans to unveil its new name and release some preliminary information about its developments.

The startup is developing an optical switch with an electrical core. Its claim to fame is that its switch is much more scalable than the ones from other vendors already in this market - notably Sycamore Networks http://www.sycamorenet.com, Ciena Corp. http://www.ciena.com (via its acquisition of Lightera), Cisco Systems Inc. http://www.cisco.com (via its acquisition of Monterey) and Tellium Inc. http://ww.tellium.com.

Brightlink says its switch can link together a lot more wavelengths than its competitors. The initial version of its equipment, which is scheduled to ship in the fourth quarter of this year, can be configured with as many as 1,024 OC-48 (2.5 Gbit/s) ports. Future upgrades will push this maximum port count to 4,000, 16,000 and eventually 64,000, according to Gary Law, vice president of marketing.

The key point here is that Brightlink plans to do this while retaining an electrical core. All vendors say they can scale to huge numbers of ports. "We wouldn't get in the door with carriers if we couldn't do that," notes Nicholas De Vito, Tellium's vice president of product management and business development. But other vendors are banking on being able to shift over to using optical cores to deliver switches with more than 256 or 512 ports.

So why should carriers go with Brightlink and its electrical core, rather than, say, an upgraded Tellium with an optical core, if they need a 1,000 port switch?

One answer is that it's simply a matter of timing. All-optical switching technologies are still at an early stage of development and probably won't be ready for operational use for another 12-18 months. So Brightlink may have a window of opportunity to sell its switch while other vendors are shifting to optical cores.

Another answer is that carriers will need electrical cores to control their networks. Right now, signaling for optical networking is in its infancy.

A further advantage of using an electrical core is that it adds another dimension to Brightlink's scalability. Its switch can handle a whole range of bandwidths, down to STS-1 (51.5 Mbit/s). All optical cores switch whole wavelengths - in other words, very big pipes. In fact, even existing switches with electrical cores can't deliver the granularity of Brightlink, Law claims.

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