Nortel Gets Meshy

ATLANTA -- Supercomm 2001 -- Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) has announced the first public multivendor demonstration of its all-optical switch, the OPTera Connect PX.

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.

It's also interesting that Nortel chose not to include its upcoming OPTera Connect HDX in this demo. That electrically-based optical grooming switch is set to be the linchpin in Nortel's immediate plans to help carriers increase revenues in optical networks (see Nortel's Got a Plan). According to Mumford, the absence of the HDX was deliberate, in order to focus on the Optera Smart software. In the future, he says, the HDX will be used at the network edge to interact with the Connect PX in the photonic core.

For more information on Supercomm 2001, please visit the Light Reading Supercomm 2001 Site.

- Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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testdude 12/4/2012 | 8:18:54 PM
re: Nortel Gets Meshy I understood the OPC product was being designed to bridge the Optical to Router gap. Where's this product now??? I understood the Nortel/Juniper alliance was supposed to be a stopgap measure to fill in for the OPC void while it was under development. Any thaughts to share...
equinox 12/4/2012 | 8:18:53 PM
re: Nortel Gets Meshy "According to Mumford, the absence of the HDX was deliberate, in order to focus on the Optera Smart software. In the future, he says, the HDX will be used at the network edge to interact with the Connect PX in the photonic core."

WHAT??? HDX at the edge?
ExNortel 12/4/2012 | 8:18:52 PM
re: Nortel Gets Meshy "any thoughts to share.."

Yea, but I'm sick of lawyers, so I'll keep quiet this time.

OPC=Only a Paper Concept.

Good news, bad news:

Bad - Thank god it ain't real, they don't have any experienced data/IP people left to sell it.

Good - They've kept the 10 to 15 year lifers that got them in this mess to begin with, you know, the PBX sales weenies, etc, and groomed out all the new thinkers and ideas.

Err, perhaps the good and bad are reversed up there?

Now that depends if you have 15 years at NT and are waiting on that pension....only 5 more to go!

Belzebutt 12/4/2012 | 8:18:50 PM
re: Nortel Gets Meshy Subject says it all...
Belzebutt 12/4/2012 | 8:18:50 PM
re: Nortel Gets Meshy "WHAT??? HDX at the edge?"

HDX is at the edge in the sense that PX and LH are in the core. Obviously you still need all three to build a network.
canadian 12/4/2012 | 8:18:47 PM
re: Nortel Gets Meshy I hear the OPTera Packet Core is coming along and will be in Beta trials very soon.

I think Nortel did the right thing in not demonstrating it until it is at least past Beta.

Juniper's a good router, especially if you need MPLS, so that was a good choice. And of course, they would not use a GSR there, would they?

And by the way, I am ex-Nortel too, and I believe they are doing a pretty good job up in OPC land.

Yes, they do need some better sales people, but their technical expertise is rock solid.

testdude 12/4/2012 | 8:18:47 PM
re: Nortel Gets Meshy Coming from another ex-Nortel type. I did feel technically the OPC was an ausum project. I did kick the pants off a Juniper and GSR in terms of carrier grade but it did have some work to do to catch up to these guys technically. But it was still in Alpha. Just wondering if its to little to late.

dodo 12/4/2012 | 8:18:44 PM
re: Nortel Gets Meshy Belzebutt/testdude/canadian

I realize that some of you are still Nortel employees and those ex-nortel are either loyal or have a good appreciation of the hard work that have gone into the OPC project, but I would like to point out some concerns:

1. Last June when the Versalar project was cancelled, we were told that the OPC is going to be the final answer to all our woes. The same people who made these commitments and promises ended up transferring to the OE project ( this is another issue).

2. Last week 3 VPs from the OPC project were let go, in addition to some good staff. The jury is still out on the 3 VPs but for the past 6 months we have not had concrete answers from the decision makers and some good engineers have decided to move to greener pastures on their own ( minus severance packages, stock options) because of frustrations and demotivation on the job.

I am not from SKY but have been hearing rumours ( Nortel's grapevine is good for that) and would appreciate getting your inputs
ExNortel 12/4/2012 | 8:18:44 PM
re: Nortel Gets Meshy PS - I was not one of the ones axed. Heck I broke the news of the layoffs on HERE while NT kept saying "we aren't laying anyone off".

I was one of the smart ones who saw the writing on the wall (the next LU??), sold all my options (tens of thousands in the 60s and 70s), and left when I was told to staff rank my organization for the forthcoming layoffs.

Now you can go hand back your options, extend them 6 months, and take a 2 for 3 stock pacakge.

Cisco did a 1 for 1, msft did a 1 for 1, why did NT do a 2 for 3?

Plus, you guys won't see anything north of 20 to 30 for well over a year, perhaps 1.5 to 2 years.

Especially if you keep discounting your optical gear at 85%+ off to win business.


I'll enjoy my time off, golf, volunteer time, my hobbies, and the no stress of hoping NT handles the market a little bit better then it did the last 18 months.

When things get better, I'll jump back in, heck, NT may even hire me back again.

Ex, and relaxed.

canadian 12/4/2012 | 8:18:42 PM
re: Nortel Gets Meshy Good points. I'm another one that left on my own before the chopping began.

So, how is the OE (TI?) project coming along now? When and what are they delivering?

Also, I heard of 2 VPs being let go - I wonder who the third is? Unfortunately, OPC never got the right direction from the VPs, can't say I blame Roth on letting them go.

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