AlcaLu Makes Its Packet-Optical Move

The company is thinking big, with a plan to redefine the way packet and optical networks interact. And the stakes are bigger than a P-OTS box, AlcaLu says

Craig Matsumoto, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

September 16, 2009

4 Min Read
AlcaLu Makes Its Packet-Optical Move

With the packet-optical revolution apparently gaining steam, Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) is holding a press conferece today to declare itself fit to lead the charge.

Alcatel-Lucent isn't announcing a packet-optical transport system (P-OTS). (See AlcaLu's Gone to P-OTS.) The company's plan is more sweeping. Basil Alwan, head of carrier portfolio strategy, is giving a Web presentation today explaining AlcaLu's strategy for converging packet and optical networks -- intertwining them in terms of data planes, control planes, and management systems.

AlcaLu is calling the concept "Converged Backbone Transformation," and true to its name, it primarily targets the transport of data and wavelengths across the network core.

Light Reading got a sneak preview of the plan last month. Among AlcaLu's assertions: The lines between types of systems -- router versus optical transport, especially -- will have to blur, and equipment vendors will have to demonstrate a new type of thinking that doesn't separate those layers of the network. (See AlcaLu Preps Grand Convergence Plan.)

The transition is heightened by a well known carrier conundrum: It's getting more expensive to build high-bandwidth networks and, thanks to over-the-top video services, more difficult for the carriers to make money off those networks. Equipment vendors are being asked to lower costs, make bandwidth usage more efficient, and leave doorways open for carriers to build new services.

Alcatel-Lucent won't be the only vendor heading in this direction. Every large equipment maker seems likely to embrace a packet-optical strategy of some kind. At least one startup is there, too: Cyan Optics Inc. announced its P-OTS yesterday, merging packet and Sonet/SDH transport with DWDM and reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexer (ROADM) capabilities. (See Cyan Plays God With Optical.)

AlcaLu officials contend they've got an upper hand by owning both sides of the equation: extensive optical expertise and a router group that's wedged itself into the competition between Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR). (See AlcaLu Readies 100GigE Cards .)

"If you ask a router vendor to solve this problem, you'll get a router answer. If you ask an optical vendor, you'll get an optical answer," says Lindsay Newell, vice president of marketing for Alcatel-Lucent's router division.

Newell adds that a joint venture or partnership wouldn't be enough, because of the tight integration required between the optical and packet halves. That statement could be taken as a dig against Juniper and Nokia Networks , which have paired up to get their packet and optical gear to interoperate more deeply. (See NSN, Juniper Plan Ethernet Marriage, NSN, Juniper Converge IP & Optical, Juniper, NSN Launch Joint Venture, and Is Juniper Junior-Grade?)

But, to reiterate: AlcaLu's plan ain't P-OTS. It's more a rethinking of the network, and Alwan and crew cite a couple of missions they'd like that new architecture to accomplish:

  • 1) Use router ports less often. Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) has used this mantra in writing requests for proposals for a P-OTS God Box, hoping to lower costs and improve network efficiency. (See Verizon Rethinks Long Haul.)

    "Not all traffic in the core needs to be processed by a core router," Newell says. "It's a little like running a train from Los Angeles to New York and forcing all the passengers to get off the train at every stop."

    2) Find a better way to pack wavelengths. A technology called ODUflex would help carriers groom traffic at the VLAN level, giving them the ability to fill wavelengths to the brim if need be. This could be a useful core-network addition for services like IP VPNs, where lots of edge-network points are talking to one another.

    ODUflex is being standardized, but Newell says AlcaLu has some patent-pending ways to make it better.

AlcaLu has all the pieces to start Converged Backbone Transformation. To reach convergence nirvana, it's going to have to wait for some new developments in the next couple of years -- for instance, an integrated management system for packet and optical gear, or automated network tools that work across multiple layers.

Even 100-Gbit/s ports, which would help with the growing bandwidth needs of carriers, won't be happening until 2010.

Are carriers really ready for this kind of convergence? Newell cites an Infonetics Research Inc. survey of carriers, wherein 41 percent of respondents plan to integrate transport and data operations right away. Then again, roughly 20 percent said they had no plans to do so, period.

"Some service providers are ready to do this now, in terms of organizational structures and operational structures. For others, it's going to take a few years to get to," Newell says. "We've seen, in the cable MSOs, more willingness to do this. With the telcos, there's more of a history of having different networks."

A side note: Just two weeks ago, Qwest Communications International Inc. (NYSE: Q) signed up to use all the relevant pieces for Converged Backbone Transformation: Alcatel-Lucent routers in the core and edge, and long-haul optical gear. Newell wouldn't comment on whether that means Qwest is going for full backbone convergence. (See AlcaLu Scores Core 100G Win.)

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Craig Matsumoto

Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

Yes, THAT Craig Matsumoto – who used to be at Light Reading from 2002 until 2013 and then went away and did other stuff and now HE'S BACK! As Editor-in-Chief. Go Craig!!

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