Can frame relay survive the

Frame relay works well on private networks, but is it doomed in an era of low-cost, high-speed access to the public Internet?

That emerged as a central question at the Network World (US) Frame Relay Showdown at ComNet in Washington, D.C., last month.

“The argument that I need to pay more to get quality of service is not holding up,” said Steve Bell, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Networking Lab. “Frame relay services will be cannibalized by the Internet and high-speed, low-cost access.”

Not so fast, countered John Scarborough, director of virtual data services at MCI WorldCom Inc.

Scarborough said customers are increasingly looking for WAN services that combine the reliability and class of service of frame relay with the universal access of the Internet. “It’s going to be about driving integration,” he said.

“(The future of networking) is not going to be about any one solution,” Scarborough said. “The Internet is not going to be a panacea.”

Panellists disagreed on whether carriers should seek to offer complete one-stop solutions or develop partnerships.

For instance, AT&T Corp. wanted to build out its network so it bought up the IBM Global Network and, as a result, increased its IP offerings. Through its Concert joint venture with British Telecommunications PLC, the carrier can offer better frame relay options, according to Joe Lueckenhoff, product vice-president for data network services at AT&T.

“You build what you can – it’s called biting off what you can chew,” countered Mack Greene, director of frame relay and ATM product management at Qwest. “Whatever we can’t do, we seek partners for.”

Other executives criticized Qwest’s approach, saying it leaves customers in the cold for managed services.

“We are not offering managed services now, but we’re working to get them out there,” Greene said.

“People think they have to own the network end to end,” said Michael Johnson, senior director of enhanced engineering at Intermedia. “But look at the two most successful networks today — the public switched telephone network and the Internet. Both are made of many networks.”

Panellist and Network World (US) senior editor David Rohde asked the carriers if they thought U.S. regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs) entering long distance would threaten their hold on frame relay.

“Networks can’t be built or integrated overnight,” Johnson said. “And you cannot duplicate (the established) networks. It’s too expensive.”

Other participants in the Showdown were panellist Atul Kapoor, senior vice-president and managing director of research and analysis at the Tolly Group; Tom Wilson, director of data transport at U.S. West; Brad Hokamp, director of advanced data services at Sprint; and Bob DaGiau, vice-president of global intranet services marketing at Infonet.