Optical/IP Networks

Tenor Builds A Network Toll Booth

The good news about optical networking is that it lets carriers deliver huge amounts of bandwidth. The bad news is that it's hard to get money out of those fat pipes.

Tenor Networks Inc. (http://www.tenornetworks.com) is looking to solve that problem with the launch of its TN250G Optical Service Switch. It promises a slew of features that will allow carriers to provision differentiated services and-crucially-charge their customers for every packet and cell.

Still, Tenor isn't the only optical player looking to help carriers turn a dime from next-gen services, and its product will face competition both from terabit router vendors and from startups working on Sonet multi-service provisioning platforms (MSPPs) for metropolitan networks. What's more: The device won't have some important routing functions when it ships in the fourth quarter; Tenor hasn't yet announced meaningful pricing information; and it isn't in beta trials-so it's not clear that Tenor can really deliver on its performance claims.

The TN250G is designed to function as a network linchpin-binding metropolitan area networks (MANs) to long-haul networks. Service providers will be able to install it either in the central office (CO) or point of presence (POP), where it will interconnect metro DWDM and Sonet hardware to long-haul DWDM equipment using a variety of interchangeable, high-speed interface modules. Tenor claims the device will process ATM, frame relay, IP, and TDM traffic, and use MPLS (multi-protocol label switching) to set up virtual tunnels over the core network, allowing service providers to engineer their networks for higher performance.

But the TN250G is a lot more than just a big network switch. What makes it interesting is its touted ability to help carriers quickly provision value-added data services-and make money from them. That's a huge deal. Right now, service providers are stuck between a rock and a hard place-trying to turn a profit either from nickel-and-dime voice minute rates, or by delivering low margin, fat-pipe, plain vanilla data services.

The TN250G is designed to break that model by adding "service awareness" to the optical network. That sets it apart from traditional DWDM or Sonet optical equipment, which operates at the transport layer and is too dumb to understand what sort of traffic or applications it's carrying, much less give carriers the information they need to charge for it. Tenor says its switch solves the problem by building ASICs into every switch port. They perform three functions: recognizing packets and cells, applying quality of service (QoS) to them, and recording (or metering) them. Tenor claims the ASICs can do this even when minimum size 28-byte packets are being sent at maximum OC-192 line rates.

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