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Optical/IP

Crunch Time for Signaling Standard

NEW YORK—A standards issue that’s split the optical networking industry is up for discussion at a meeting of the Optical Internetworking Forum (OIF) in New Orleans today (Feb. 1).

At issue is the creation of a signaling standard for automatically setting up and tearing down, on demand, strings of wavelengths over optical backbones. This would automate processes that are currently done manually, enabling them to be achieved in seconds rather than days, weeks, or even months, as is now the case. Such a standard would lead to huge reductions in carrier costs; new opportunities for rolling out inexpensive, high-bandwidth services; and the opening of equipment markets that are currently clogged with proprietary solutions.

The trouble is that the standard is potentially so important that rival factions are each trying to pull its development their own ways—and that threatens to delay progress.

Right now, this is how things are shaping up:

The OIF (http://www.oiforum.com), representing 150 companies led by Cisco Systems Inc. (http://www.cisco.com), is voting today on the establishment of a signaling working group charged with developing the standard.

Less than a month ago, however, Sycamore Networks (http:www.sycamorenet.com) set up a group of about 50 startups called the Optical Domain Service Interconnect (ODSI), aiming to do the same thing. (See Third Front Opens on Standards War)

Just to complicate matters even further, everybody is planning on using MPLS (Multi-Protocol Label Switching) as the starting point for developing the standard. And the MPLS working group of the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) is already working on extending MPLS to include optical networks.

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