There's an Ether-Fest at Supercomm
Yesterday, three well known optical networking players, Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA), and Sycamore Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SCMR), announced enhancements to their Ethernet product portfolios.
At the same time, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) introduced 10-gigabit technology to its Ethernet-based routers. The products are designed to help carriers build metro gigabit optical rings with Cisco's Internet routers.
All of the announcements point to some new activity in the metro Ethernet market. While pioneering startup carriers like Yipes Communications Inc. have offered services based on gear from traditional Ethernet vendors like Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR), the more established carriers, such as WorldCom Inc. (Nasdaq: WCOM), are turning to the big optical networking companies for Ethernet services -- which could well open opportunities in the Ethernet market for the latter.
WorldCom, for example, has announced its deployment of Ethernet business services in 84 cities, but it didn't use any of the traditional Ethernet equipment vendors as suppliers. Instead it named optical giant Nortel (see WorldCom Unveils Metro Ethernet).
One main reason that carriers are tending to stick with established telecom equipment players is that they are not yet ready to get rid of their Sonet infrastructures; Nortel et al can offer solutions that work with their legacy networks.
“Ethernet could evolve like DSL,” says David Gross an analyst with Communications Industry Researchers Inc. “As all the little players like Yipes fade, the more established carriers will step in to offer services. And they aren’t going to be satisfied with enterprise boxes. They’re going to want carrier-class products.”
Yesterday, Nortel announced two new products from its OpteraMetro family, the product line WorldCom is using (see Nortel Offerings Enable VPNs). The OpteraMetro 1400 and 1450 are aggregation boxes designed for the access portion of the network. They are the first OpteraMetro access products from Nortel to offer Gigabit Ethernet interfaces. The OpteraMetro 1200 only offers 100-Mbit/s interfaces. The products are also using a proprietary extension to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) standard known as the "Martini Draft" to provide Layer 2 managed virtual private network (VPN) services. The two new access products are used in conjunction with the existing multiservice metro core switch, the OpteraMetro 3500. Essentially, the 1400 and 1450 are used to aggregate Gigabit Ethernet traffic from the customer sites into the 3500 core box.
Tellabs announced it was adding Gigabit Ethernet and Ethernet-over-Sonet virtual concatenation to its new Tellabs 6400 metro transport products (see Tellabs Adds to 6400 Series and Tellabs Comes Ready to Play). The technology allows Sonet channels to groom data streams and enables carriers to support up to five times more data traffic on their networks.
Sycamore, which provides optical switching and transport gear, also made Gigabit Ethernet announcements yesterday (see Sycamore Fleshes Out GigE). The main announcement was a new four-port GigE module for its SN3000, multiservice switch, which competes with Nortel’s OpteraMetro 3500 and Tellabs' 6400. Sycamore's switch also supports virtual concatenation, but the company says it takes the concept a step further and allows carriers to sell protected and unprotected STS1 (51.8 Mbit/s) channels within its larger concatenated Sonet pipe.
Meanwhile, Cisco introduced 10-Gig interfaces for its 12000 Series Internet Routers based on Ethernet, Dynamic Packet Transport (DPT), and Resilient Packet Ring (RRP) technologies. Cisco officials say it will allow service providers to more efficiently build metro rings to support data traffic (see Cisco Unleashes News Deluge). Although Cisco's product announcement was focused on Internet Protocol (IP) routing, it did indicate that the vendor is trying to adapt Gigabit Ethernet and other technologies such as RPR to serve the carrier market.
The moves show two groups moving in essentially the same direction -- traditional enterprise players are adopting gigabit data technology for carriers, while traditional carrier equipment players, especially optical switching players, are looking to add Ethernet and other data capabilities to their switches.
Sycamore, the optical switching provider that is arguably least equipped to fight in the Ethernet market, looks to be partnering to beef up its Ethernet presence. It announced a series of partnership programs with Extreme Networks, Riverstone Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: RSTN), Unisphere Networks Inc., Atrica Inc., and Appian Communications Inc. to feed its SN3000 switch.
Some experts say that some of the announcements are important, while others are just trying to gain a foothold in the Ethernet market.
“Nortel’s developments in Gigabit Ethernet are definitely significant,” says Gross. “But Sycamore is less so. They don’t really have any customers buying gear, so I think introducing a new product is almost irrelevant.”
Rumors have recently floated around that Sycamore is about to be bought by either Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE) or Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) (see Siemens, Alcatel Seeking Sycamore?).
Meanwhile, Ethernet was equally hot on the startup front. Mahi Networks Inc., which is working on a metro switch that combines Sonet and Ethernet traffic, announced today that it has raised $75 million in new financing (see Mahi Gets a Fresh $75M).
— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading