PBT Parties On
If you haven't been keeping up, PBT enables deterministic point-to-point Ethernet transport tunnels with SDH-like management characteristics. Just how far this technology has come was evident at last week's NXTcomm show in Chicago. In stark contrast to a year earlier, when only Nortel Networks Ltd. was banging the drum, PBT marketing and demos were to be found all across the show floor as vendors look to ride the wave that began when BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) announced it was deploying the connection-oriented technology in its 21CN next-generation network. (See PBT: New Kid on the Metro Block and Nortel, Siemens Win PBT Deals at BT.)
So here's a rundown of NXTcomm's PBT highlights, starting with the technology's lead supporter, Nortel.
Nortel touts Tier 1 interest
Nortel announced its Carrier Ethernet Ecosystem with a number of partners that are keen to show off their PBT credentials, set up interoperability tests, and create joint marketing efforts. It also announced a new PBT customer in the form of Frontier, an ILEC that's part of Citizens Communications Co. (NYSE: CZN). (See Nortel Pushes PBT Pact and Frontier Deploys Nortel PBT.)
Separately, Philippe Morin, Nortel's president of Metro Ethernet Networks, says the ecosystem is necessary just now, while PBT goes through the standards process at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) , where it is called PBB-TE (Provider Backbone Bridges – Traffic Engineering). Morin believes it will be another 18 to 24 months before a standard is ready.
Morin says the most interest in PBT is coming from Europe and that Nortel has been talking to major carriers, including Orange (NYSE: FTE) and Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT). Interest in North America, though, "is picking up -- the Frontier deal is part of that process. I expect the ILECs to move faster" than the Tier 1s, says the Nortel man.
Next up for Nortel is the integration of PBT functionality, currently on offer as part of the vendor's 8600 Ethernet switch, into more platforms, including its optical and even its enterprise portfolio, says Morin.
One of the most contentious issues surrounding PBT -- which, supporters such as Nortel claim, can deliver the security and resilience of SDH but at Ethernet infrastructure prices -- is how it will be managed.
Two companies, Gridpoint Systems Inc. and Soapstone Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SOAP), say they can help carriers in this respect.
Startup Gridpoint unveiled its Ethernet Path Computation Module (E-PCM), which allows carriers to set up connections with guaranteed network resources. The company's director of product line management, Nick Cadwgan, says the same underlying technology can be applied to non-PBT technologies as well. (See Gridpoint Computes Ethernet and Gridpoint Targets PBT.)
Soapstone, the new branch of router vendor Avici Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: AVCI; Frankfurt: BVC7), was demonstrating how its PNC (provider network controller) can act as the control plane for PBT networks, providing Ethernet tunnel path selection and management, as well as interfaces to existing OSS systems. (See Soapstone Intros PNC for PBT.)
Demand for PBT building blocks
Tpack A/S , which provides FPGA designs and applications software for multiple technologies, including PBT and its MPLS equivalent, Transport MPLS (T-MPLS), says there has been a lot of interest in both technologies in recent months.
Marketing director Daniel Barry says his company has struck more deals like the one announced earlier this year with optical vendor Meriton Networks Inc. , where Tpack is providing the PBT building blocks that enable Meriton to add PBT capabilities to its Optical Switching Platform. (See Meriton Tackles Ethernet Transport and Meriton Uses Tpack.)
"PBT and T-MPLS have woken up the transport arena, but it's not about PBT versus T-MPLS, it's about understanding the way in which they work together and when they're suitable," he notes. "The general trend is towards carrier Ethernet transport -- the combination of OTN, WDM, and PBT/T-MPLS."
Ixia (Nasdaq: XXIA) is the first of the test-and-measurement fraternity to align itself to the PBT fraternity, saying it has added the capabilities needed to test PBT functionality, and applications running over PBT, into its Carrier Ethernet Test Solution. (See Ixia Tests PBT.)
The company's VP of product management, Neal Roche, says Ixia has been able to add MAC-in-MAC (802.1ah) capabilities to its IX platform using its integrated Packet Designer functionality, which enables it to emulate multivendor PBT networking scenarios, including handoffs to MPLS networks.
Roche says Ixia will join Nortel's Ecosystem and support the test cases that Nortel will develop as part of the partner program.
Demand or curiosity
Other companies showing off their PBT credentials at NXTcomm were Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR), Hammerhead Systems Inc. , Nokia Networks , and World Wide Packets Inc. . (See Extreme, Nortel Team, Extreme Joins Ecosystem, NSN Touts PBT, Hammerhead Shows Off PBT, and Hammerhead Hooks Up PBT.)
Dror Bar-on, carrier Ethernet marketing manager at Nokia Siemens, says there's interest from major North American carriers in how PBT can fit into their network strategies, and especially what it is that BT is doing with PBT. Nokia Siemens, which was emphasizing the potential cost savings PBT can deliver to operators during its in-stand demo, is one of BT's two PBT system suppliers.
World Wide Packets also reports steady interest in PBT. Marketing director Marty Hess says "everyone has been asking about PBT and the Nortel grouping," while Chad Whalen, senior VP of business development, adds that "the market is in inquisitive mode," and that there is interest from carriers and potential vendor partners. (See WWP Supports PBT.)
— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading