Verizon Biz Searches for Core Competency
In a recent interview, Fred Briggs, the executive VP of Network Operations and Technology for Verizon Business, told Light Reading he's still seeking a big, next-generation core router to help Verizon Business converge its core networks and provide truly hitless software stack updates. Briggs said he's pressing routing vendors to create more resilient products in the core.
"At some point I'd like to bring our networks together in what's called a converged core, but to do that we need the next-generation router," Briggs says.
"We need it to have very similar features to the old TDM network. As much as we malign it, the TDM network is still pretty good in terms of automatic failover -- to be able to put a software load in, and have it fail to the hot standby, without any customer impact."
In English, Briggs is saying that Verizon Business needs a core router that can do a major software upgrade while the router's still in service. This would have to be done without having to reboot the machine and without forcing customers to go offline. He says this is more important of late, as Verizon Business is providing far-reaching service-level agreements and tripling its VOIP call volume this year. (See Verizon Sets VOIP Benchmark.)
Verizon Business says it released a next-generation core router request for proposals in 2004, got responses last year, and is still working with vendors to get their gear to the level that the carrier needs. "Obviously we didn't see all the things we wanted at that time," says Verizon Business spokeswoman Linda Laughlin.
The carrier won't go into too many details about its core router needs, but it did say software wasn't the only concern. It also needs core routers that can failover to a redundant set of processors automatically. "If there's a processor issue out there, you don't want to have to wait for a technician to have to physically go out and change a linecard," Laughlin says.
Though Verizon says it is listening to all kinds of core routing vendors, big and small, analysts don't see the spoils going to anyone outside of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) or Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR). "Cisco and Juniper are both well aware of such high-availability requirements," says Rick Thompson, a senior analyst at Heavy Reading. "There will always be cases where the service provider wants a little bit more than what vendors might be able to give them with current product releases...
"Although I'm sure they're accepting RFP responses from numerous suppliers, the likelihood of a surprise vendor -- outside of Cisco or Juniper -- actually winning business is slim to none," notes Thompson.
Another issue Verizon Business says it will consider when evaluating prospective core router suppliers is their ability to provide maintenance, troubleshooting, and labs capable of recreating real-life network scenarios. Of course, the product needs to be available when Verizon needs it -- and it has to scale enough to live in a network that spans six continents, 150 countries, and 2,700 cities.
Equipment vendors were hesitant to comment directly on Verizon Business's claims, but the two big ones say they're working on improving router reliability.
Juniper, which has tested 40-Gbit/s core routers with MCI, points out that it just announced its in-service update feature for its E-series Broadband Services Router. This updated software allows "non-disruptive software updates for maximum network availability," according to the company's PR team. (See Juniper Intros Interface.)
That's great, but it's worth noting that the E-series is an edge router. There's no word on how quickly Juniper's T-Series of core routers will hit Verizon's mark.
Cisco says its CRS-1 and its IOS XR operating system form "the world's most advanced core router, offering industry-leading high-availability software and hardware features including control, data, and management plane separation; built-in process redundancy; process isolation and restart; and in-service software upgrades."
Cisco, which has the former MCI president on its board, also has a product that can manage a completely hitless, major software update: its MDS 9000 storage switch. But sources say the company hasn't confirmed that the CRS-1 is there quite yet. (See Capellas Joins Cisco Board.)
So, after two years, Verizon Business is still shopping. "We would like to have done it this year," says Verizon's Briggs. "It won’t be available, but I hope to have it next year. That’s a big piece of the network."
— Phil Harvey, News Editor, Light Reading