Micro MSPPs Are Big

The demand for Ethernet services and the buildout of 3G networks have made a star of micro multiple service provisioning platforms, or micro MSPPs.

A micro MSPP is a small, low-priced, low-capacity switch that aggregates network traffic (in various protocols) onto Sonet/SDH pipes at the edge of the network so that the core network can be simplified and operated more efficiently.

The micro MSPPs stand between 1 and 2 rack units (RU) in height (they can be modular) and usually cost between $3,000 and $8,000. For the small size and small price tag, concessions must be made -- the units' architecture is usually not as fully redundant as larger Sonet platforms.

The micro MSPP concept grew from two realities in the service provider business. First, service providers need to leverage their deep investment in Sonet. Second, they need to satisfy the growing demand for Ethernet-based services. The micro MSPP allows service providers to extend their Sonet/SDH networks to “customer located” sites, making provisioning a smarter, smoother, and less costly affair.

“It is really all about pushing the smarts out to edge of the network where the customers are,” says William Quigley of Clearstone Venture Partners. Quigley says older-generation MSPPs were built to sit in the service provider’s central office (CO), aggregating and switching the traffic for a large area. The old MSPPs therefore needed much more switching capacity (usually 160 Gbit/s to 300 Gbit/s).

But moving all that traffic from the network's edge back to the CO is expensive. Nowadays, much larger traffic loads are being moved in that direction. So carriers need a way to do that switching at the edge so as to eliminate all the backhauling to the CO. The way to do it is to distribute that switching power more finely to more locations at the edge of the network. Since such a scenario creates more switching locations, these new MSPPs can get away with having far less switching capacity. Still, they need to be far less expensive than their $40,000 predecessors to justify the scheme, Quigley says.

The micro MSPPs look good on paper; but what applications are propelling their popularity? As discussed in a Light Reading Webinar held last week, the delivery of Ethernet services will be a major carrier capital expenditure (capex) priority this year. The micro MSPP will likely emerge as a crucial piece of hardware for carriers racing to delivering those services efficiently, according to Andrew Knott of White Rock Networks Inc., which has been selling a micro MSPP since August.

“The reality is the carrier will offer Ethernet to new customers it is trying to take away from somebody else providing basic DSL service,” Knott says, “Some of the smart ones will offer Ethernet to their existing customers so that nobody can steal them, but usually [carriers offering Ethernet] are trying to take subscribers away from competing carriers.”

Besides Ethernet service delivery, 3G network requirements may also be driving a big demand for micro MSPPs. Specifically, micro MSPPs are being sought out for the ability to streamline the movement of wireless traffic among access points.

Clearstone's Quigley says it is no coincidence that places where 3G technology is hot -- like China, Korea, and Japan -- are also the places where demand for micro MSPPs will most likely turn into real sales. China Telecommunications Corp. (NYSE: CHA), Korean incumbent KT Corp., and India’s Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) all have RFPs or RFQs out for micro MSPPs, according to Paul Nahi, CEO of Crimson Microsystems Inc., which supplies components to the makers of micro MSPPs.

The new technologies are nice, but the central appeal of the micro MSPP, from the service provider's point of view, is simply economic: It leverages Sonet, the world's dominant telecom networking technology.

“There has been a substantial investment globally in SDH and Sonet technology in core networks -- I think its something upwards of $300 billion of installed base,” says Michael Crossey of Transmode Systems AB. “And with having those micro MSPPs with those interfaces, it really gives those networks a new lease on life, and allows operators to deploy new data services, high-capacity services, which traditionally weren’t supported on legacy SDH/Sonet.”

Micro MSPPs also support storage networking protocols such as Escon, Fibre Channel, and Ficon, making them a good fit for data centers and medium to large enterprise customers. In fact, many service providers first began buying micro MSPPs to serve their enterprise customers.

“In a full-blown MSPP it is really expected to have a fully redundant system where there is no single point of failure. In the case of the micro MSPP very often there is a tradeoff made, because one its big attributes is cost,” says Transmode’s Crossey.

Micro MSPPs on the market now include ADVA Optical Networking's (Frankfurt: ADV) FSP 1500; Verilink Corp.'s (Nasdaq: VRLK) Orion 5000; Tejas Networks India Ltd.’s TJ100; Transmode’s TSE; and White Rock’s VLX2006. Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), ECI Telecom Ltd. (Nasdaq/NM: ECIL), and Luminous Networks Inc. have also announced gear in this space (see Luminous Thinks Small, ECI Intros Small MSPP and MSPPizza to Go at Cisco).

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

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