Switches Face IP Challenge

Multiservice switches (MSS) still have their place, but the ATM-minded platforms are losing a publicity war to routers, according to a recent report by Heavy Reading, Light Reading's paid research arm.

The report, "The Future of Multiservice Switching In Converged IP/MPLS Networks," contrasts vendor strategies with carrier roadmaps and finds most MSS strategies to be a bit behind the times (see HR: IP/MPLS Reshaping Edge).

Before the turn of the century, MSSs were at the heart of some major telecom acquisitions such as the (Nasdaq: CSCO) pickup of Stratatcom or the merger of Cascade into Ascend and thence into (NYSE: LU). But with IP taking the spotlight, MSS vendors are facing "agonizing decisions" about how to keep up, writes Heavy Reading analyst Scott Clavenna.

It all has to do with network convergence. The telecom world is moving en masse toward the use of MPLS to carry all traffic types across a single IP network core, as opposed to the multiple networks used in the past (see Incumbents Converge on Convergence). That's made IP and Ethernet of paramount importance to most carriers, even those that rely on ATM.

"The multiservice switch (MSS) market is now slowly but surely giving way to the forces of IP and Ethernet," Clavenna writes.

All this attention on IP has trained customers to think about routers, Clavenna writes, leaving multiservice switches sounding as hip as Grandma's tea cozies. It doesn't help that a more IP-centric box called the multiservice edge (MSE) router emerged last year, with nearly every large vendor supplying a product (see Juniper Hatches the M320, Neptune Arrives, and Lucent Joins the Edge Crowd).

Then there's the question of carrier demand. MSS vendors have long strived to show their boxes can reduce operating expenses, which is what carriers wanted. But today, carriers have begun emphasizing revenue growth rather than opex savings. "Left unaddressed, this expectation gap will challenge the status of MSS vendors in the market as router vendors offer up more IP-optimized solutions," Clavenna writes.

The report details the status of 13 MSS vendors and includes interviews with nine network operators.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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