Alcatel looks to dominate convergence market

Hoping to steal market share from historically data-centric switch vendors Cisco Systems Inc. and Extreme Networks Inc., Alcatel SA on Tuesday introduced an entirely new line of converged data and voice switches.

The Paris-based company, which derives a majority of its revenues from North America, announced a family of switches intended to meet the data, voice, and video needs of midsize to large enterprises.

Based on a platform that will permit easy compatibility with existing Nortel Networks Corp. and Cisco Systems products, Alcatel believes it is the only company that has expertise in both voice and data, thus making the company a natural to provide an enterprise solution that supports both.

“Cisco comes from a data background, not voice,” said Tom Wilburn, senior vice-president and general manager of Alcatel’s North America enterprise business. “Avaya (Inc.) and Nortel know voice, but we think we have the next-generation solution for convergence.”

Alcatel acquired some of the Ethernet switching technology from its October 1998 acquisition of Packet Engines and its March 1999 acquisition of Xylan. The voice element has long been a piece of the Alcatel pie.

The new product line, which will be available in May, includes the OmniSwitch 7700, 7800, and 8800. Both the 7000 and 8000 series are built with a distributed switching architecture and have a mechanism that allows continuous traffic processing even when the switch is in fail-over mode. This is a feature that the company says is not found in their competitors’ lower-end products.

“Continuous switching is a carrier-class availability function that allows for restoration in less than 10 seconds,” said Eric Penisson, director of product marketing at Alcatel. Penisson adds that Cisco’s basic wiring closet switch does not offer redundancy and to get Layer 3 switching, customers must upgrade with a new module.

The 7700 switch is an IP-based wiring closet switch, and the 7800 the 8800 are enterprise core switches. The 7800 switch provide as many as 192Gb ports and a throughput of 60mpps (million packets per second). The 8800 offers as many 384 GigE ports, the most in the industry, and has a throughput of 240mpps.

The company will sell the new switches through its numerous channel partners around the world.

Alcatel’s last product for the enterprise market, the IP-based PBX OmniPCX 4400, was introduced at ComNet 2000. The OmniPCX 440o permits voice over data networks.

The OmniSwitch 8800 will cost between US$73,000 and US$153,000 and the OmniSwitch 7700 and 7800 will cost between US$33,800 and US$42,000.