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Ethernet equipment

BT Issues 21CN Ethernet RFP

BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) has issued a major Ethernet equipment Invitation to Tender (ITT) for its £10 billion (US$18.7 billion) 21CN next-generation network project, Light Reading has learned.

Having finally signed deals with its eight "preferred suppliers" for IP, transmission, and access equipment, the British carrier has now issued its ITT -- more commonly known as an RFP (request for proposal) -- for the systems that will power its future Ethernet services. (See Vendors Sign BT 21CN Contracts and BT Closes 21CN Deals, Touts IPTV.)

News that the ITT is already in circulation among vendors comes just days after Matt Beal, the 21CN program director, told the audience at Light Reading's Ethernet Expo: Europe 2006 that "Ethernet is across the entirety of 21CN, with reach through more than 5,500 exchanges, and Ethernet over optical. Ethernet is seen as the racehorse in the network now that it has reach and capacity capabilities not previously thought possible." (See 21CN: It's an Ethernet Thing.)

A year ago, BT's CTO Matt Bross also eulogized about Ethernet and the role it will play in BT's future. (See BT's Bross: Ethernet Will Deliver.)

BT says this new ITT process is completely separate from the initial network equipment tender and procurement process and covers the full range of carrier Ethernet capabilities, thereby opening the 21CN door for vendors that missed out on the initial contract awards.

And it's likely that the Ethernet sector's vendors will be falling over themselves to get involved. While BT is playing hardball with its suppliers in terms of pricing, making it a tough project to be involved in financially, the 21CN program is probably the most high-profile and radical telecom network overhaul process in the world, and provides the systems suppliers involved with an unparalleled shop window for their NGN technology. (See BT's Learning From Google.)

Details about the ITT's detail -- the potential value of the available deals and the exact technical requirements -- are scarce, as the vendors stick to BT's non-disclosure requirements for fear of being ousted from the process. BT says it is spending about £3.4 billion ($6.3 billion) of its £10 billion ($18.7 billion) 21CN budget on the initial contracts with its eight "preferred suppliers," but it is not giving any guidance about the planned capital expenditure to be used on Ethernet gear.

It's also not known when BT will select and name its Ethernet suppliers, or when shipping and deployment will begin. The carrier plans to switch off its current multiple networks and run all its services on the 21CN in 2010, but there are already signs that such an aggressive timetable might be subject to change. (See BT Says 21CN Deadline Hasn't Moved.)

Some vendors, under condition of anonymity, confirmed that the ITT document is wide-ranging in terms of its requirements, and shows that BT is preparing to deploy a number of different technologies to enable Ethernet services for corporate and, ultimately, residential customers.

Specialist Ethernet vendors, though, may already be resigned to playing a secondary role, at best, in the equipment supply process. One firm told Light Reading that BT's procurement policies mean the major infrastructure vendors will almost certainly be handed the contracts, and that any specialist Ethernet firms will then have to collaborate with those major suppliers.

That's the way BT approached its initial equipment deals: Eight major vendor partners were chosen and are delivering products and services from multiple partners as well as their own wares. (See Fujitsu Shares Its 21CN Success, BT's 21CN: Metro Partners Under Wraps , Ericsson to Bring Partners to 21CN Party, Alcatel Names Its 21CN Partners, and Siemens Unveils 21CN Partners.)

The list of specialist Ethernet vendors that could respond to BT's ITT document is long, but if they need to team up with a major vendor to get a foot in the door, then Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), and Nortel Networks Ltd. would be the most likely partners. Alcatel is well placed, having recently provided BT with technology for its existing Virtual Private LAN service. (See BT Picks Alcatel VPLS .)

News of the Ethernet RFP comes days after SIP application server firm Ubiquity Software Corp. (London: UBQ) announced its involvement in the "common capabilities," or service creation and development platform, stage of the 21CN process. (See Ubiquity Leads New Round of 21CN Deals.)

This means BT Wholesale, the division of BT that is managing the 21CN program, is juggling a number of different 21CN processes that it needs to run and develop in tandem:

  • The deployment and testing of the access, IP, and transmission systems as specified in the initial round of equipment contracts. The first 21CN metro region, in South Wales, is set to switch to a VOIP-only platform in March 2007. (See BT Takes 21CN 'Baby Step' and BT Says 21CN Deadline Hasn't Moved.)

  • The procurement and ordering of Ethernet-specific systems that will need to be integrated with the first round of new hardware.

  • The "common capabilities" process -- BT is set to announce deals with multiple specialist service creation platform specialists that will provide the building blocks for new services and applications.

  • The integration of, and migration to, a number of new multiservice OSS platforms that will ultimately replace the multiple legacy operational and business support systems that underpin each of BT's current services, of which there are hundreds. (See BT Uses JDSU for 21CN, Tektronix Joins 21CN, BT Awards Monster OSS Deal, BT Pins Down OSS Deals, and BT Uses MetaSolv OSS.)

  • The rollout and integration of video-over-broadband systems. BT is to launch video-on-demand (VOD) services later this year over its current DSL access network, but the video systems supporting those services will need to be deployed and planned with a view to 21CN integration. (See Microsoft Wins at BT.)
— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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desiEngineer 12/5/2012 | 3:53:35 AM
re: BT Issues 21CN Ethernet RFP davallan,

It's always about implementation. That's when you find the bulk of the gotchas in scaling, robustness, efficiency, usability: carrier class isn't cheap.

Anyway, we'll have to agree to disagree and wait till you have your carrier class PBT and duke it out in the marketplace. As for me, I want my MPLS.

-desi

davallan 12/5/2012 | 3:53:37 AM
re: BT Issues 21CN Ethernet RFP Metroman,

What you are now discussing is implementation, not fundamentals of the technology. Which becomes simply your opinion of the state of the art based on whatever sampling you've done of the industry....

My point is that the fundamentals are similar, but Ethernet as specified is far more commoditized and simpler for pretty much the same feature set. Different things IMO..

D
metroman 12/5/2012 | 3:53:37 AM
re: BT Issues 21CN Ethernet RFP davallan

I think we have been quite clear. You are arguing against yourself now - all of these features are available in a carrier class environment - not in "low cost" ethernet switches. Yes they might be on the check list but not with enough scalability, predictability, reliability (modular OS, separated control/forwarding, reliable hardware architecture, linear scaling etc).

BTW - in PBT almost everything changes - you can continue with your NT pitch about "It's just Ethernet, what could be so difficult" or "it's just like SDH" but it isn't.

If you don't see the issue - fine. I am never going to persuade you as you have blind faith in your corner. Good luck when reality hits.

Metroman
davallan 12/5/2012 | 3:53:38 AM
re: BT Issues 21CN Ethernet RFP Metroman/desi:

I'm curious as to the essence of your most recent arguments, for all practical purposes you are referring to PBT/Ethernet as somthing new, untried, overly simple and missing many of the features MPLS and other technologies has accrued over painfully obtained experience.

IMO that does not quite wash, and critical examination IMO only identifies the following deltas....

802.1P not quite as sophisticated in the PHB treatments as diffserv. Similarly PBT can only do E-LSPs not L-LSPs.

PBT/Ethernet is not capable of doing stacking operations at every node and what stacking or layer recursion can be performed is restricted, the hierarchical boundaries are clearly delineated. IMO THAT is the key simplification and a major reason WHY an Ethernet solution is much simpler, the number of dimensions each box needs to deal with is less.

Otherwise the toolsets are fairly similar, BFD/CFM, class based queuing, destination based forwarding, ECMP/MLT...

The other delta is that for Ethernet, it does not "vote itself off the island" on the last hop (PHP) which provides Ethernet/PBT with more consistent OAM properties, esp. considering the MAC termination would be there anyway...

Only reason Ethernet looks simple is 20 years of engineering and rigorous specification ;-)

D
metroman 12/5/2012 | 3:53:41 AM
re: BT Issues 21CN Ethernet RFP desiEngineer

When you are the vendor of a new technology you tend to forget that experience is required to get it right. I have never known a network on a powerpoint slide to fail.

They fail all the time in the real world. You just need to make them better every time.

You might rely upon someone who understands packet infrastructure challenges - but companies that managed to destroy assets like Bay Networks... makes me uneasy.

Metroman
metroman 12/5/2012 | 3:53:41 AM
re: BT Issues 21CN Ethernet RFP davallan

"If we are talking some fraction of a percent of overhead, that does not change as you aggregate flows. A fraction of a percent is a fraction of a percent no matter how big the original number is..."

You are absolutely right - (don't forget the rest of the control plane traffic). Have fun with those switches!

Metroman
davallan 12/5/2012 | 3:53:43 AM
re: BT Issues 21CN Ethernet RFP Metroman:

You wrote:
"In PBT you need to touch every intermediate hop and all of the hops of the alternate path for every new circuit you build. "

And this is somehow different than what? SONET/SDH, MPLS, all require intermediate nodes to be configured...FRR frequently....

You wrote:
" In the core nodes, this means you will be aggregating all the OAM messages for thousands of PBT sessions, this is a massive overhead (and prioritisation issue) that the SDH networks don't have to deal with."

If we are talking some fraction of a percent of overhead, that does not change as you aggregate flows. A fraction of a percent is a fraction of a percent no matter how big the original number is...

You wrote
"By putting 2 different control planes on a network at once (MSTP for multipoint and offline control by PACS for pt-to-pt)"

That only presupposes one solution, there are others....

D
desiEngineer 12/5/2012 | 3:53:44 AM
re: BT Issues 21CN Ethernet RFP metroman,

"PBT, unless it develops very quickly with many new additional capabilities is likely to render itself redundant as soon as it becomes part of a successful sales campaign."

I'm with you on this. MPLS is expensive because this stuff takes time, and isn't easy. PBT just sounds easy. The landscape is strewn with the carcasses of companies that thought routers and switches of this ilk are "easy" and can be made "cheaply."

By the time you make PBT rock-solid, carrier grade, with not just drafts of OAM methodologies and protocols, not just prototypes and running code, but real production quality stuff that you want to be proud of, it's going to be the middle of 2008.

And if you are desperate enough to want a customer, then you have to be patient and build them a good product.

For the other side (BT, here, but others investigating for PBT), don't minimize the effort required to make PBT rock-solid, just because someone offers it on the cheap. MPLS is a simple enough idea, but it took loong years and many great minds, and we still have a ways to go.

Man, that was a soapbox speech I learned the hard way (but the right way).

-desi
metroman 12/5/2012 | 3:53:44 AM
re: BT Issues 21CN Ethernet RFP spegru

I hope for the sake of BT's competitors you are right. I hope for the sake of BT you are wrong.

The similarity between PBT and SDH is ONLY in the fact that the service appears to look the same (Pt-to-Pt with backup).

Then you need to look at the points that are not similar:

Statistical multiplexing adds value but also adds complexity. Ethernet and any other packet based networks do not operate in linear, predictable fashion like SDH - If BT want to emulate their operating environment by implementing PBT they are about to find out some hard truths about packet networks.

In an SDH environment, the signalling of a circuit and the OAM associated with it works in a completely different way to PBT. In PBT you need to touch every intermediate hop and all of the hops of the alternate path for every new circuit you build. If you want to operate circuits over a large network to connect thousands of POPs then you will have "n" thousands of PBT sessions. In the core nodes, this means you will be aggregating all the OAM messages for thousands of PBT sessions, this is a massive overhead (and prioritisation issue) that the SDH networks don't have to deal with. This is nothing like SDH.

Most customers will want multipoint services - yes there will be a requirement for many pt-to-pt services but you also need to move on from the old and start to add some value. By putting 2 different control planes on a network at once (MSTP for multipoint and offline control by PACS for pt-to-pt) you immediately add a level of complexity and reduce your visibility of control plane and OAM scalability. Remember that all of this traffic is in-band therefore dimensioning becomes an exponentially larger problem. This is nothing like SDH.

Once you have done all of this and you need to then add multiple services over basic Ethernet swicthes, I guarantee you will have many hours of stress troubleshooting and scaling this kind of topology. The lack of VPN support, the lack of heirarchy, the aggregation of thousands of in-band OAM sessions while managing multiple control planes - BT will have to build multiple networks to deliver multiple services. This then fails to make the network low cost.

Comparing this to SDH is far too simplistic. Just because it is point to point does not make it the same.

MPLS networks may cost a little more, but they have solved these issues and will allow multiple services. They therefore become a better investment as the operator does not have to build multiple networks to run multiple services.

People have to ground themselves in reality - networks are not built on powerpoint slides, they are built in real life. We have to imagine that they are going to be a roaring success. When you have imagined this, ask yourself the question - will it really work with these product architectures, with these signalling protocols, with these kind of services when I am committing to these SLAs.

PBT, unless it develops very quickly with many new additional capabilities is likely to render itself redundant as soon as it becomes part of a successful sales campaign.

Metroman
spegru 12/5/2012 | 3:53:50 AM
re: BT Issues 21CN Ethernet RFP One thing people seem to be missing whan talking about scalbility and lack of control plane is that PBT represents (almost) business as usual for BT. Thay already manage millions of SDH and indeed (yes indeed) PDH circuits om their in house OSS system - PACS. It will be a very small step to move this over to PBT links. These are point to point systems just like SDH.

That way (they reason) they will get the cost base of Ethernet, Statistical Multiplexing of Ethernet with the control and stability of SDH. Add to that some upcoming Ethernat OAM and they could be on to something.

No need to worry about scalability, a service that everyone wants (Ethernet plug n play) and massively reduced cost/ improved efficiency. Sounds good to me.

Leapt out of the page whan I first saw it......

rgds
spegru
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