Lucent Joins the Edge Crowd

As expected, Lucent becomes the latest vendor with a new box for the multiservice edge

June 15, 2004

6 Min Read
Lucent Joins the Edge Crowd

Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) is unveiling its new edge switch today, taking the plunge into what promises to be a contentious multiservice edge market.

The CBX 3500 clears up the questions regarding Lucent's plans for the multiservice edge, a category that's been all the rage among equipment vendors this year and a sore spot for Lucent watchers. Lack of such a product led Lucent to lose a Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) contract to Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN), which had recently acquired WaveSmith Networks' edge kit (see Ciena Seals Verizon Deal).

The new box also answers the older question of when Lucent was going to upgrade the CBX 500, which hasn't seen a major new release since 1999.

The CBX 3500 comes in the nick of time for next week's Supercomm tradeshow, where multiservice edge routing will be on the lips of competitors, including Ciena, Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Hammerhead Systems Inc., Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR), Laurel Networks Inc., Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), Riverstone Networks Inc. (OTC: RSTN.PK), and Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA). Lucent will be at the show demonstrating video services running on a network consisting of CBX 500s, CBX 3500s, and a core of Juniper routers.

Lucent also has potential customers lined up. China Unicom Ltd. is announcing plans to test the CBX 3500, and several U.S.-based tests will begin this month, says Michael Nielsen, president of Lucent's multiservice switching division.

The half-rack CBX 3500 turns out to have 70 Gbit/s of capacity, but it's not all available at first. Beta versions have shipped with just 10 Gbit/s, and line cards for the first production versions will only provide 35 Gbit/s -- one OC48 port in each of 14 usable slots (with two slots reserved for switch fabrics). This matches the two-staged schedule previously reported by sources (see Lucent's WaveSmith Killer). Lucent officials aren't giving a timeframe on tapping the full 70 Gbit/s.

But, as expected, the CBX 3500 will stay true to Lucent's Layer 2 roots and is tailored for established Lucent customers. It supports cards from the CBX 500 and uses the same MXOS operating system. It does ratchet up the density, carrying 5 Gbit/s per slot as opposed to the 622 Mbit/s on the CBX 500, and supports interfaces from DS0 up to OC48.

Multiservice edge routers provide a means for carriers to funnel their active Layer 2 traffic -- ATM and Frame Relay in particular -- onto the converged IP/MPLS network core. The job calls for a box that speaks a variety of access protocols and includes MPLS functionality.

Vendors are split on how to do this. Some believe the multiservice edge router needs to be a Layer 3 box -- a router at heart. Not surprisingly, routing champions Cisco and Juniper feel this way. Nortel also joined their camp with the introduction of the MPE 9000 line, code named Neptune (see Neptune Arrives). In the Layer 2 camp, Lucent joins the likes of Hammerhead and WaveSmith/Ciena.

Lucent is also the latest vendor taking a two-box approach to the new network. The CBX 3500 aims for heavier Layer 2 consolidation, but for the actual MPLS core or a newly built Layer 3 network, Lucent is pointing customers towards reseller partner Juniper. Similarly, Ciena provides WaveSmith for older services and resells Laurel for newer ones, and Alcatel targets separate boxes for ATM and MPLS networks.

Because of this split, Lucent doesn't see itself encroaching on the M320, the multiservice edge router from partner Juniper. "Service providers have a pretty clear vision and model of what problem they're trying to solve," says Nielsen. "If there's a requirement to carry full-QOS Layer 2 traffic, that steers them in the direction of the 3500. If there's someone who's going to deploy just IP VPN services, that's going to steer them towards the M320."

Like Hammerhead, Lucent believes the interworking of ATM, Frame Relay, and Ethernet is critical for a multiservice edge box. "We have basic levels of those today, and as the [interworking] standards roll out, we'll track that," Nielsen says.

The CBX 3500 might not seem the most newfangled of the multiservice edge entries, but it doesn't have to be. It could serve Lucent well as an aggregator of CBX 500 traffic, keeping the faithful in the fold and away from the new startups in this space. Moreover, the CBX 500 was due for some changes, according to analyst Kevin Mitchell of Infonetics Research Inc.

"The 500 hasn't really seen any kind of enhancements in quite some time," Mitchell says. "Lucent definitely milked that platform for what it was worth."

Even so, the CBX 3500 doesn't just recycle the hardware in the CBX 500. Rather, it uses a modern touch: network processors from Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), which allow Lucent to produce cards that can be programmed as interface needs change. The network processors also will allow the development of a "universal" line card later on, Nielsen promises.

Network processors were intended for IP traffic, so the use of Intel's chips makes the CBX 3500 ready to pick up Layer 3 work. Lucent is choosing to keep the box closer to the ATM world, though. While Ethernet and MPLS will eventually dominate the network, "it's not unreasonable to think that's going to be a decade-long transition," Nielsen says.

By letting Juniper worry about MPLS and Layer 3, Lucent can fill the gaps rendered by the massive cuts the company has endured in recent years. But competitors see it as a chance for them to get a leg up on Lucent, particularly as more of the Layer 2 networks begin migrating to Layer 3.

Separately, Lucent is releasing an MPLS card for the CBX 500 today, intended to add Layer 2 and Layer 3 VPN capabilities to Lucent's installed base. As predicted, the card was developed by Juniper and uses hardware from the M7i router (see Lucent Preps MPLS Infusion). It goes into beta testing this month, with general availability scheduled for the fourth quarter of this year.

The module will run on Juniper's software at first, but Lucent plans to tweak its Navis management software to support it. That upgrade should be available in the fourth quarter as well, Nielsen says.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

Archives of Related Light Reading Webinars:

  • The Service Edge

  • Carrier VOIP: How to Build Reliable Networks

  • Edge Routing: Evolution and Economics

  • Multiservice Edge Platforms: Empowering 21st Century Services – US Event

  • Interworking: Making the transition to MPLS

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