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PBT vs MPLS: Round VII

8:00 AM -- Conference panel sessions can often be boring affairs, but occasionally a topic crops up that raises people's blood pressure. PBT is one such topic.

A session at the Carrier Ethernet World Congress in Geneva last week got a bit tasty when PBT's main sponsor, Nortel Networks Ltd. , and the Ethernet technology's main detractors, Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR), shared the stage.

As the debate raged -- "PBT is much cheaper than MPLS," followed by, "No it's not, and MPLS is much more useful," and so on -- Nortel stalwart Dave Allan (consultant architect, CTO's office) chipped in with the event's quote of the week:

"We have to get away from the conceit that routers have to be involved in everything!"

A great retort that got the crowd chuckling, but I bet Nortel wishes it had a router of its own to pitch into the battle.

It did try at one point, didn't it? (See Neptune Changes Orbit and Neptune Arrives.)

— Ray Le Maistre, Verbal Jousting Editor, Light Reading

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Marc Rapoport 12/5/2012 | 3:44:18 PM
re: PBT vs MPLS: Round VII Desi,
I think the debate is not happening in the Edge, which is already dominated by MPLS PEs which are features rich (VPN, QoS, ...) and not cheap, but at the Metro, which is the backhaul from the access to the edge.
That's where PBT is claiming that a dumb/cheap ethernet pt2pt cct can do the trick in this layer (which i personally disagree)
desiEngineer 12/5/2012 | 3:01:34 PM
re: PBT vs MPLS: Round VII No, you have to get away from the conceit that Nortel could be involved in anything useful.

OK, so don't call it a router. Call it an ethernet services switch (oh wait, Alcatel uses that name). Here are the next steps for PBT:

- a signaling protocol
- a topology distribution protocol
- an OAM protocol
- a link resiliency protocol
- QoS definitions

Guys, how is that NOT a modern day router? The logic defies me.

It's a box of the same genre as routers today that have ethernet capabilities coupled with MPLS: 7750/7450, M320/MX 960, 7609.

-desi
digits 12/5/2012 | 3:01:33 PM
re: PBT vs MPLS: Round VII Touch+¬...

Router envy -- I feel that could become standard industry parlance.
litereading 12/5/2012 | 3:01:32 PM
re: PBT vs MPLS: Round VII Could it be that core routers have become the equivalent of yester-years TDM Digital Switch?

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:01:31 PM
re: PBT vs MPLS: Round VII You've got a point, considering Alcatel even calls the 7450 a "router" sometimes. But I think "not a router" refers to the absense of BGP or OSPF or whatnot.

(Basically, I think it's code for "Not built by Cisco or Juniper.")

Regarding the core ... Mostly, these non-routers are headed for the edge. I wasn't at Geneva, but all the PBT talk I've heard lately has edge-focused, with the concession that Cisco/Juniper routers still rule the core.

Related: Would a pure layer 2 Juniper box still cost more than a Ethernet services box? I'm thinking it would...
rjmcmahon 12/5/2012 | 3:01:28 PM
re: PBT vs MPLS: Round VII Anyway, what's with this whole notion that the edge is cheap? Nowadays, all the heavy lifting is done at the edge,

If I had to guess people are looking at it from a unit volume perspective and not an NRE perspective. Also, in the current model the service providers buying edge equipment have the stronger position when negotiating price which means edge vendors will always run on the verge of bankruptcy and continuously be pressured to reduce gross margins (assuming arms length business transactions are the forces at hand.) Service providers are trying to repay capex with net income from an overly supplied, multichannel, entertainment model. Enterprise markets are much different because GDP improvements by the corporate staff rationalize the capital spending and the spending on technology churn. I'd short edge vendors until something drastic happens to the operating models.
desiEngineer 12/5/2012 | 3:01:28 PM
re: PBT vs MPLS: Round VII Craig,

"Regarding the core ... Mostly, these non-routers are headed for the edge. I wasn't at Geneva, but all the PBT talk I've heard lately has edge-focused, with the concession that Cisco/Juniper routers still rule the core."

But what is the box in the middle of the cloud? It's still a PBT box - unless PBT is so marginalized that it is only the edge node.

PBT is supposed to be a cheap ethernet switch, with simple SDH-like provisioning. You don't SDH-provision just one box at each end. So what's the point of putting a huge MPLS-based network in the middle?

PBT can only win (i.e., be a profitable venture for a vendor) if there is a sizeable metro cloud of PBT nodes.

All the MPLS-based carrier ethernet edge vendors play the same game with the core nodes, i.e., MPLS features, IGP, etc.

Anyway, what's with this whole notion that the edge is cheap? Nowadays, all the heavy lifting is done at the edge, and the core node is BGP-free, PIM-free, with just aggregate QoS, and is pretty much just a brute. Not to say it is easy to build or cheap - just that the edge is where the VPNs, the per flow QoS, the policy enforcement, etc., is done.

-desi
desiEngineer 12/5/2012 | 3:01:28 PM
re: PBT vs MPLS: Round VII Craig,

"You've got a point, considering Alcatel even calls the 7450 a "router" sometimes. But I think "not a router" refers to the absense of BGP or OSPF or whatnot."

Well, the 7450 has OSPF, so is it a router? It has MPLS, so is it a router? I'd hesitate to call a box that can do label-switching a router unless it could actually signal the labels, and use an IGP.

A better definition than "can it do OSPF" would be whether it can really do OSPF or does it play one on TV, viz. is it a full-function OSPF, does it scale, can it do lots of areas with lots of LSAs, do you have to stick in a new blade for each additional 100 LSAs, etc.

Likewise with MPLS: can it do RSVP & LDP? How many LSPs or FECs? Can it scale, can it FRR a reasonable number of LSPs in sub-50 ms, etc.

That's how you tell a firewall which does a little OSPF from even a low-end router. Or an edge aggregation MTU from a real router, regardless of whether it can do a little bit of MPLS.

-desi
schlettie 12/5/2012 | 3:01:26 PM
re: PBT vs MPLS: Round VII The next steps for PBT (signaling/routing protocol, OAM, QoS) are already being defined in IEEE/IETF/MEF.

The manufacturing cost of these PBT boxes will be only marginally less than the cost of a carrier ethernet router: both need the same fabric, redundant CPUs, fans, cooling, etc. The only cost difference might be due to the lack of line rate IP forwarding, which isn't the rocket science it was ten years ago.

The main difference between a PBT box and a router will be sales price: operators want to built out their transport networks with low-software content boxes that they can pay 30 points margin on, rather than the 65 points they have to pay Cisco & Juniper. Of course, once Nortel & co succeed in bloating PBT into a poor-man's MPLS, the business case for PBT (low NRE for a low margin product) will be broken.

And what operator in their right mind would trust Nortel to deliver a scalable routing stack?
digits 12/5/2012 | 3:01:24 PM
re: PBT vs MPLS: Round VII "Could it be that core routers have become the equivalent of yester-years TDM Digital Switch?"

I think the debate is in danger of spilling into fantasy territory. It's clear there is interest in PBT, but the router vendors aren't staring oblivion in the face.

Here's the thing I have noticed -- in public, I haven't heard anyone suggest that PBT could usurp MPLS from the core network, or even replace it entirely in a metro network. YET - this seems to be a scenario that people, mostly from the anti-PBT camp, talk about.

I suspect that some pro-PBT players might be overstating PBT's appeal and potential, and that's something that could work against the technology's acceptance.

It's early days still, but I get the feeling this topic has legs.
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