Optical/IP Networks

Demo Underscores Interoperability Challenge

It was billed as the first public demo of routers and optical switches working together to automatically set up wavelengths. But when visitors saw the demo in the flesh at the Optical Fiber Communications (OFC) show in Baltimore this week, they were more depressed than impressed.

Why? Because the demo was so puny. A single terabit router from Avici Systems Inc http://www.avici.com was connected to a single optical switch from Tellium Inc http://www.tellium.com on Avici's booth. When the link between the two got congested, the Avici router sent some SNMP traps (management messages) and configuration commands to the Tellium switch, which responded by setting up an alternative connection.

Making such a song and dance over such a modest achievement underscores how little progress has been made in this field.

"You have to start somewhere, but what carriers really want to see is a bigger demonstration of interoperability end to end, extending from the building through the metro area to the core," says Christine Heckart, president of Telechoice Inc. http://www.telechoice.com, a consultancy. "I'm sure they'd like to see more vendors and bigger vendors involved," she adds.

The demo doesn't touch the complexity of the problem facing today's carriers. As networks evolve, provisioning a range of different services on thousands of links, distributed across hundreds of locations, becomes truly daunting -- calling for much more than triggering SNMP alerts through the use of one another's APIs (application programming interfaces).

"To provide end-to-end provisioning of services in optical networks, we'll need signaling and a physical interface,"says Anand Parikh, co-founder and vice president of marketing and business development at Appian Communications Inc. http://www.appiancom.com , a startup making optical access equipment.

Industry groups like the Optical Domain Service Interconnect (ODSI) coalition are aiming to draft standards covering signaling and interfaces (see Third Front Opens on Standards War). But ODSI won't have a draft standard ready until next fall, and there's no saying whether it will win acceptance by big vendors, many of whom haven't joined ODSI.

Even then, standards are no guarantee of interoperability as carriers know only too well. Sonet standards have existed for years, but carriers still can't mix Sonet gear from different vendors in the same network.

-- by Mary Jander, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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