Switch Vendors to Tackle Core Routing

A handful of big data switch vendors are readying announcements of equipment that combines both IP routing and ATM switching in products they claim will help carriers take another step toward revamping their core networks.

Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), and Marconi PLC (Nasdaq/London: MONI) have confirmed the imminent release of gear that supports switching and routing in both cell- and packet-based networks. And sources say Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) is waiting in the wings.

Here are the highlights:

  • Alcatel says the second release of its 7670 Routing Switch Platform (RSP), now in customer trials, is set for the end of next week. New features will include support of a multishelf design, in which the basic switching fabric is isolated from the interface cards. This will enable Alcatel to support 450-Gbit/s capacity with OC48 connectivity (OC192 is due late in 2002), as well as combined ATM switching and IP routing.
  • Lucent says its TMX 880 Multiservice Exchange Switch will ship at the end of January 2002, with OC192 support, ATM switching and IP routing, and 160 Gbit/s of capacity. Lucent's not saying anything about trials just yet, however.
  • Marconi says its BXR-48000 is in field trials with one top-tier carrier, with two more trials expected to start before general availability in March 2002. At that time, the product will support OC48 and feature 240 Gbit/s of capacity, as well as ATM switching. By June, it will have OC192 support and 480 Gbit/s of capacity, as well as IP routing capabilities, the vendor says.
  • Nortel is said to be readying its Passport 20000, the next iteration of its multiservice WAN switch, for first-quarter 2002 release. This box will be equipped with OC192, ATM switching and IP routing, and about 160 Gbit/s of full-duplex bandwidth, sources say. Nortel would not comment.

The trend highlights a new sense of urgency among vendors to lay claim to what they see as a multibillion-dollar opportunity to help carriers preserve incoming revenue from existing ATM and frame relay networks, while moving to IP-based future networks -- ones that will be ready to deploy MPLS Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) to control quality of service (see Lucent Unveils Product Lineup and Alcatel ATM Switch Steps Up).

While the upcoming crop of switches doesn't convert traffic between ATM and MPLS, the vendors hope that supporting both concurrently will at least support carriers interested in having both kinds of networks for the foreseeable future.

But analysts say the jury's out on whether the established ATM switch vendors can pull off their plans. This is primarily because they're taking so much on by aiming to support both switching and routing in one platform.

The vendors say this tack is key. If they support only ATM, they'll be unable to offer the throughput and granularity carriers want in future IP networks, they say. If they support IP only, they'll threaten their existing technology -- which they say carriers don't want to do.

"By supporting both switching and routing in one platform, we give carriers a choice," says Mike Lisanti, director of product management for the BXR at Marconi. "We don't dictate to them one way or the other. We avoid cell and packet tax. We provide full Layer 3 functionality. We don't just tunnel ATM over IP packets. This gives us greater efficiency and scaleability."

Despite these arguments, the strategy's pitfalls are clear. Carriers will need to invest in the new equipment, which will be expensive. There's some argument about the relative merits of MPLS itself (see MPLS Gets Lukewarm Reviews and Has the IETF lost it?). And despite claims to the contrary, there will be a point at which the switch vendors position their wares in direct competition with routers from the likes of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR).

Sources say one has only to look at the ailing Avici Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: AVCI; Frankfurt: BVC7) to see what's at stake in this strategy (see Avici Warns, Wall Street Scorns). Cisco and Juniper not only have clear dominance in the market, they also have their own core strategies in mind. In addition, Cisco is readying a follow-on to its own Cisco MGX 8850 IP + ATM Multiservice Switch, one that will presumably have capacity equivalent to what the other vendors plan to offer.

"We want to provide core transparency, whether that means packet, cell, or frame," says Don Proctor, VP and general manager of Cisco's Multiservice Switching business unit. Clearly, Cisco's ready to mine its own share of the legacy migration market.

There's also a chance the switch vendors won't be able to pull off the technology fast enough to gain traction. Marconi, for instance, admits that its full roster of core features won't be ready until mid-2002, a full year and half after its first announcement.

The switch vendors also face competition from emerging players like Équipe Communications Corp., which says its Équipe 3200 (É3200) platform allows carriers to move their ATM networks to MPLS functionality without having to install a separate IP infrastructure first (see Équipe: Take the ATM Road to MPLS).

For its part, Équipe, perhaps prudently, is staying out of the routing fray. "We have never said anything about supporting native IP," insists VP of marketing Bob Sullebarger.

Analysts say all this adds up to a major challenge, one the switch vendors will need help to overcome. "The concept of a switch/router is as old as the hills... But if the switch vendors are really serious about routing, they'd better have the inside track with important customers," says Jim Lawrence, program director at Stratecast Partners. "Otherwise, they're asking to become another Ironbridge." (See IronBridge Has Fallen Down, Ironbridge 'Sold for Parts', and Ironbridge's Last Ditch Efforts Fail.)

It's more likely, Lawrence says, that the emerging switches will wind up taking over label switching in MPLS networks, leaving the heavy lifting at Layer 3 to the big router players. This is still a growing opportunity. "Internets, intranets, and extranets are going to have a lot of label-switched paths [to handle]," he says.

Whatever materializes, the established switch vendors seem more than ready to stake their claims, big time, and they're not backing down on the biggest claim of all -- to support IP routing. "We've had a lot of debates internally about what to call [our product]," says Marconi's Lisanti. "ATM switch, router... We will offer carrier-class IP routing." — Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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billyjoebob 12/4/2012 | 11:07:15 PM
re: Switch Vendors to Tackle Core Routing I think the question is has anybody devined a method to make an MPLS investment payoff. Network convergence is a Grail Quest and L2 VPN services are already deployed on equipment that is bought and paid for. Why would a vendor buy new equipment to roll a service that reduces their margins and adds no benefit? MPLS cores will remain the bastion of pure IP carriers until such time as somebody can put a business case togther that puts real money on the bottom line, Euros or Dollars - not just promised efficiency improvements.

The bean counters are asking hard questions these days and each division in the SP is being evaluated on their individual bottom lines - new technologies without a decisive competitive or cost advantage will be scrutinized very, very thoroughly. In this light I don't believe MPLS brings enough to the table to justify the cost.

If that is so the follow up question is will vendors invest development money into it if it isn't going to be a distinguishing feature for their products?
mu-law 12/4/2012 | 7:24:52 PM
re: Switch Vendors to Tackle Core Routing The maturity of purpose-built single-function core routers is already fleeting at best. Further destabilizing this, or learning how to be a router company ten years after the fact is suicide.

Also, the industry offered clear guidance on the non-role of ATM in the core... 3 years ago. Multiservice products are edge products for common carriers. No more, and no less.

To develop products of this sort is to prove that you don't understand the problem. Of those mentioned, only Equipe recogizes reality on this point.
broadbandboy 12/4/2012 | 7:24:46 PM
re: Switch Vendors to Tackle Core Routing skeptic wrote: "I've heard all this before. Some company has an ATM switch and they try to retrofit it as an IP router mostly because they can't build an IP router themselves."

Hey skeptic, I am curious, who had an ATM switch and tried to retrofit it as a router?

What was the name of the switch?

I believe you, I just can't remember one that fits your description. They say memory is the first thing to go...

Thanks in advance,

skeptic 12/4/2012 | 7:24:46 PM
re: Switch Vendors to Tackle Core Routing
I've heard all this before. Some company has an
ATM switch and they try to retrofit it as an
IP router mostly because they can't build an
IP router themselves.

What they end up with is something that isn't
quite a router and ends up getting sold to
ATM customers for ATM-only use.

Sometimes it seems like these products are built
for people who like ATM switches but for political
reasons have to buy something that has router
reoptic 12/4/2012 | 7:24:43 PM
re: Switch Vendors to Tackle Core Routing So do carriers want to terminate IP on the edge and handle layer 2 in the core or terminate ATM/FR on the edge and route in the core. You will have both types but ultimately economics proves out and the growth is in IP traffic which means routing is the more likely path. Look at the relative growth of the multiservice vs. IP equipment to see this more clearly.

And then there is that small matter of adding that little bit of routing functionality to ATM switches to compete at the frontier with the leading router vendors. Even some the guys just focused on routing couldn't do it like Ironbridge, Nexabit, Versalar. Now, no problem the ATM switch vendors will just get it done...will just be ready...later...right, and the routing bar isn't going to move between now and then?

A cynic would say the growth in multiservice has fallen off and this is a deperate leap by all of them to see the world converted to ATM+MPLS which is something those layer 2 products might be able to do, let alone routing. That this was all tried years ago by Cascade with IP Navigator and failed utterly. That Cisco must be loving it for their multiservice business as now all their ATM competitors are moving to their MPLS/IP turf to try to compete with them.

But can all the these equipment companies -- and LR-- be wrong?

flanker 12/4/2012 | 7:24:43 PM
re: Switch Vendors to Tackle Core Routing Hey skeptic, I am curious, who had an ATM switch and tried to retrofit it as a router? They say memory is the first thing to go...

You're not kidding. The most prominent examples are listed in the table in the story.
_____ 12/4/2012 | 7:24:43 PM
re: Switch Vendors to Tackle Core Routing I think a couple have tried but I have never seen anything shipped. Examples are the old Fujitsu Nexion 6 year effort and the Nexabit box which is being called from the dead by LU.
I don't believe Avici has anything ATM on-board despite the fact that it was once called a TSR, Terabit Switch Router.
SiO2 12/4/2012 | 7:24:42 PM
re: Switch Vendors to Tackle Core Routing || Hey skeptic, I am curious,
|| who had an ATM switch and
|| tried to retrofit it as a
|| router?

the toshiba CSR is the first
one that comes to mind. this
spawned like progeny from
ipsilon, ibm, and cisco. one
of the initial, albeit misguided,
motivations for MPLS was to
leverage an IP-based control
plane on top of fast cell
switching data planes. the
evolution of ASIC-based packet
forwarding obsoleted the
viability of this assertion.

there was a startup called
netcore (purchased by tellabs,
if i recall) that had a box
that integrated IP and ATM.
i remember seeing it in
several carrier labs, but
don't recall hearing that
it was ever deployed. it
used a ships-in-the-night
model for integrating IP/ATM,
which is akin to using a
jackhammer to drive a tack.

even today, boxes from cosine,
NET, and their competitors
targets IP/ATM integration.
however, these folks all grok
that ATM has evolved or is
evolving into an access


HarveyMudd 12/4/2012 | 7:24:42 PM
re: Switch Vendors to Tackle Core Routing The stories about the edge, core, MSSP are nothing new. The coexistence of IP and ATM technolo0gies is nothing new. IP over ATM is also nothing new.

A story after can be sold in so many ways. And this is what it is.

It should be pointed that large public carriers still prefer ATM in spite of propganda to the contrary from the IP vendors. VoIP still remains an elusive technology.
It_hurts_when_IP 12/4/2012 | 7:24:39 PM
re: Switch Vendors to Tackle Core Routing I see the ghosts of Netcore and Argon.

The design and development of the switches from Marconi and Alcatel began in 1998 when Netcore, Argon and Nexabit were getting a lot of attention
for attempting to combine IP routing and ATM switching in the same platfrom. I would think that Marconi (Fore) and Alcatel (Newbridge) would have adjusted plans after witnessing the spectacular failures of the 3 start-ups.
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