Optical/IP Networks

Optical Switches Go Into Commercial Use

Another milestone in the development of optical backbones was notched up today when Extant Inc.http://www.extant.net said that it was running live traffic over three "Aurora" optical switches from Tellium Inc http://www.tellium.com.

This is thought to be the first time that switches of this type have been used in a commercial network, and indicates that confidence in the technology is growing among carriers.

Extant operates a backbone that links together CLECs (competitive local exchange carriers) and enables them to offer services outside their territories. Extant not only provides the physical connections to make this possible but also operates a clearing house for billing and other administrative processes so that CLECs only need to deal with Extant, not a multiplicity of partners. Extant has already hooked up nine of the U.S.'s top 15 CLECS, and has 23 more contracts in the works, according to Lee Butts, its director of marketing.

In order to deal with this business, Extant is planning to install more than 50 Tellium switches in its backbone by mid 2001. It cites two big reasons for deciding to take the lead in using this technology.

First, Tellium's gear promises to enable Extant to respond much faster to market demands by provisioning OC-48 (2.5 Gbit/s) circuits across its backbone, using a remote console, in a matter of minutes. If Extant had gone with conventional Sonet cross-connects and add-drop multiplexers, the same tasks would have taken weeks to complete, because the equipment would have needed manual configuration.

Second, Tellium's gear promises to be keep Extant's costs low. This is mainly because Tellium's net management software can quickly set up an alternative route around line failures. As a result, far less capacity needs to be held in reserve for backup circuits. With Sonet backbones, half the network is "sitting idle, waiting for a fiber cut," says Butts.

Extant also saves money because Tellium's equipment is less expensive than conventional Sonet equipment, and takes up less space in co-location POPs (points of presence).

Right now, Tellium is alone in having a shipping optical switch, according to Butts. Other vendors developing similar equipment include Brightlink Networks Inc, http://www.brightlink.com, Ciena Corp. http://www.ciena.com (through its acquisition of Lightera), Cisco Systems Inc. http://www.cisco.com (through its acquisition of Monterey) and Sycamore Networks Inc.http://www.sycamorenet.com

So far, Tellium is only shipping a 32-port Aurora. Extant is banking on using its 512-port switch in most of its network -- and Tellium says it will ship its larger switch next month. Developing the silicon for such a large switch is considered challenging by some experts -- so if and when it starts carrying live traffic, Tellium will be able to notch up another milestone.

by Mary Jander, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com and Peter Heywood, international editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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