Nortel plans to show the switch running in a trial network with storage devices from EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) and routers from Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR). The demo is slated to start tomorrow here at Supercomm 2001.
The announcement is significant because it puts a face on how Nortel plans to cope with key optical networking trends, including combining support of multivendor edge devices with photonic switching. On the downside, it looks like the demo's strictly for show, with little information about availability of products or even the actual elements of the demonstration network.
Nortel seems unfazed by the lack of specifics. "This is about the next-generation optical network," says Greg Mumford, president of Nortel's Optical Internet business (see Greg Mumford). "We want to show that we're not only working the cost axis but the revenue axis as well." He says the demo shows ways to use emerging techniques not only to reduce overall capital and operating costs for carriers but to increase revenue by applying traffic control.
Specifically, Nortel says it will show a trial version of its MEMS-based OPTera Connect PX all-optical switch linking an unspecified number of 10-Gbit/s connections in response to requests from Juniper routers and EMC storage systems.
According to Nortel, the key to the demo is Nortel's Optera Smart software series announced earlier this year, which allows the Connect PX to interact in a mesh network with other gear. Optera Smart includes a management and provisioning program that is designed to interact with special software -- the Optera Smart operating system and agents -- embedded in Nortel's switch and in other vendors' gear.
Nortel says Optera Smart uses "early" versions of the Automatic Switched Transport Network (ASTN) to establish links among network devices. ASTN is a user network interface (UNI) specification for optical networks defined by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
To set up specific types of interconnections among devices -- in this case the Juniper routers, EMC Symmetrix storage systems, and Nortel's Connect PX -- the Optera Smart software deploys a prestandard version of generalized multiprotocol label switching (GMPLS).
Specifically, Optera Smart agents in the Juniper and EMC gear will make requests to the optical network using GMPLS. GMPLS is being defined by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to allow selective engineering of IP traffic over wavelengths and circuits as well as packetized links.
This demonstration could raise at least as many questions as it attempts to answer, including the following:
- What's in the demo? While the Optera Connect PX is slated to be built on a 1000x1000 port matrix capable of supporting any combination of 10-,
40-, and 80-Gbit/s links, tomorrow's demo will be based on a prototype switch that includes a limited number of 10-Gbit/s connections. Just how many ports and links will be included isn't clear. Even Mumford says he's not sure what the demo setup will look like.
- When will the demonstrated wares be available? Nortel says its Optera PX is in customer trials and set to ship later this year. One carrier, Telus Corp. (NYSE: TU; Toronto: T), is mentioned in Nortel and Juniper's joint press statement about the demo. But whether the carrier is an actual beta customer is not stated. And just what will ship in the initial version of the switch remains a question.
Also unclear is just when the support from EMC and Juniper will be available to customers. At press time, neither vendor had returned calls inquiring about availability.
- What about the standards? Nortel says it's supporting GMPLS and ASTN in its demo. But it's mute about the UNI software from the Optical Internetworking Forum (OIF). That software is also aiming to establish interoperability and manageability in optical networks, and it's set to be shown tomorrow, in a multivendor demo in which Nortel is participating (see OIF to Stage Supercomm Demo). Lack of support for this interface in the Nortel, EMC, and Juniper demo is confusing.
For more information on Supercomm 2001, please visit the Light Reading Supercomm 2001 Site.
- Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading