The company wants to specify a scheme for carrier Ethernet that it thinks beats others in its simplicity: Rather than add features, Nortel turns some off, says John Hawkins, senior marketing manager for Nortel.
What's nifty about this method is that it requires no new standards, Hawkins believes. That could be a big relief to many -- including Hawkins, who's a veteran of the IEEE 802.17 standard wars surrounding Resilient Packet Ring Technology. "It's not going to be a big RPR-like standard," he says. "It's not like we need to do anything to the Ethernet header." (See RPR: Deadlock Ahead? and RPR Moves Forward.)
The idea is to subtract certain things from Ethernet to make it look more carrier-friendly. For example: Rather than allow Ethernet to learn the surrounding network, as it was created to do, Nortel wants to let carriers dictate network knowledge to switches. Carriers would tell a node where to forward traffic, giving it multiple options so carriers can define protection paths.
What's left out are pieces such as the Spanning Tree protocol, which was added to Ethernet to prevent loops, or the broadcast flooding of a MAC address to all nodes.
The reason to do all this is to create determinism, the lack of which "is the main bugaboo Ethernet has always had against it in a carrier environment," Hawkins says. "A frame will get to its destination, but you can't tell me how it will get to its destination, and the carriers are bothered by that."
The challenge for Nortel is to get other vendors to agree with this deterministic concept, which Nortel is calling Provider Backbone Transport. Nortel's already working on that, Hawkins says.
The upcoming CN 4200 cards will be meant for those kinds of special occasions only and are not a sign that Ciena plans to go mano a mano against switch vendors like Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR) and Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY) "It's not a full-blown Ethernet switch," Rathore says.
Ciena didn't formally announce the Ethernet add-ons, and Rathore won't yet specify when they'll be available.
It all ties back to the idea of Ethernet aggregation being a key function for IPTV networks. An Ethernet-heavy architecture is what's helped Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) attract IPTV-related business for its 7750 Service Router and 7450 Ethernet Service Switch. (See Alcatel Router Revenues Surge.) Riverstone wants its piece of that pie.
"They're doing what the 7450 did, only they're doing it with linecards," says Mark Seery, analyst with Ovum RHK Inc. "Everybody's sort of reacting to Alcatel."
Oh, the company had some other news, too -- something about Lucent or $207 million or something... (See Lucent Wins Riverstone Auction.)