On the Job – With Mumford & Pals
LR: How much of your time do I have today?
Mumford: I’ll be with you all day, then we’re having dinner this evening.
LR: What did I do to deserve this?
Mumford: I’m not sure. Not just anyone gets this tour, you know.
LR: Well, Greg, not just anyone gets one of these t-shirts.
[Formal presentation of Light Reading t-shirt ensues. Greg appears mildly pleased with our gift, in a mildly pleased sort of way. Mumford next leads us through long passageways to the sanctum of Marco Pagani, president of optical Ethernet at Nortel.]
LR: Marco [resisting temptation to shout Polo!], why is Nortel focused on optical Ethernet? Why not just offer IP over optical?
Marco Pagani: It depends on what you are trying to achieve. 90 percent of traffic over local area networks is Ethernet, and the old 80:20 rule on enterprise networks has been reversed. [Ed.note: According to the 80:20 rule, 80 percent of an enterprise’s traffic will stay onsite – on its internal corporate network. Only 20 percent crosses a WAN connection.] So there’s an opportunity to use Ethernet to create a utility, carrying all traffic.
LR: Will the “grid” [grid computing] play a role in your “utility”? [Chuckles at own pun. No one else does.]
Pagani: When you have a broadband-enabled network, all sorts of interesting things will happen on the computing and applications side. That’s one of them.
LR: OK, Ethernet is great – but don’t people really just want to use IP for everything?
Mumford: We’re not saying, "Don’t use IP." It’s already been decided that IP is the application protocol. We’re saying, "Use Ethernet for the underlying infrastructure."
LR: Got it.
Pagani: Ethernet addresses the last-mile bottleneck, and it’s an evolutionary technology – not revolutionary. I believe that today’s TDM private-line infrastructure will evolve into an Ethernet private-line network. You’ll see large volume deployments of Ethernet in late 2003 and at the start of 2004, and Ethernet will overtake TDM in 2007.
LR: Bold words. What are the potential barriers to that sort of deployment?
Pagani: There are two main ones: inertia caused by incumbent carriers not wanting to cannibalize existing revenues, and service providers not understanding the P&L [profit and loss] for Ethernet services.
LR: Do the Ethernet startups in this market have anything to offer?
Pagani: In the area of innovation, certainly. But in order to sell products they will need to associate themselves with a mothership [incumbent equipment vendor].
[Pagani takes us for a quick tour of one of Nortel’s customer labs.]
LR [while walking]: You look like Jeff Goldblum. [It’s true; Pagani is the spitting image of Jeff Goldblum.]
Pagani: So they tell me.
[We arrive at the lab. The highlight is the Optera 3500, which contains 32 protected Sonet rings in a form factor about the size of a toaster oven. We meet Denis Niles, an optical Ethernet verification engineer.] Denis Niles: So you work for Light Reading, eh?
Niles: I’m not sure I should talk to you. [Cue: general hilarity.] LR: Well, we’re not all bad, you know [ed.note: this is not entirely true; most Light Reading editors are actually complete bastards]. Do you want a t-shirt?
Niles: Yes. [The natives are always won over by our t-shirts.]
[Denis is clearly a “character.” A quick demo of voice- and video-over-Ethernet with RPR rapidly devolves into an enthusiastic lecture on why Niles works at Nortel, and how he heard about his job from a neighbor. Pagani beams his approval. Mumford checks his email on a Blackberry.]
Niles: I could work anywhere I want, you know.
LR: Oh yes?
Niles: Oh yes. I choose to work here. I don’t have to put up with a bunch of rules, red tape. I used to run IT at the RCMP [Note: Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a representative of which we'll get to meet in person later in this article]. We had one of the largest router networks in the world, over 1,200 routers. The costs involved in monitoring it and running it were astronomical, humungous! Anyway, I’ve always been of the opinion that the best way to attack a problem is through simplicity, and I was talking to my neighbor and he told me about this new Sonet metro box…
LR: Hold on, you mean your neighbor just happened to know about Nortel’s optical networking equipment?
Pagani: That’s Canada for you. We have hockey and optical networking...
Niles: And this box was made by Nortel. That’s how I ended up here.
[Niles’s enthusiasm is mirrored by the other Nortelians that we meet over the course of the day. Nortel the company may have been beaten up – but its remaining employees do not appear to be dispirited or, for that matter, particularly bruised.]
Next page: Wireless Wonders