Cisco aims to catch up in optical game

San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems Inc. launched two new service provider platforms in January under its IP+Optical strategy, but one analyst says the company is still playing catch-up in the optical networking market.

The two products, the Cisco 12400 series Internet routers and the Cisco ONS 15327 metro edge optical transport platform, are part of the company’s plans to further integrate optical technology into Cisco’s IP routers and other network equipment.

“What we’re talking about here is breaking the services bandwidth barrier, so what Cisco has done is we’re combining our strengths in IP along with our new strengths in optical to give the ability to break what we call the services bandwidth barrier, as opposed to just a bandwidth barrier,” said Sanjay Pol, director of marketing for the optical transport business unit at Cisco.

According to Cisco’s Rob Redford, senior director of marketing in the Internet POP systems business unit, the IP+Optical strategy is composed of four different elements. The first is bringing optical interfaces to IP products. On the flip side of that coin, Cisco is also taking IP into optical products. Third, Cisco is integrating IP and optical through a common network management framework, and last, looking forward, the company is building a new IP-based optical control plane to bring IP intelligence to optical networks.

“Cisco here is unique in that we have strength in both IP and optical and we’re actively engaged in integrating IP and optical. And this is in contrast to our competitors, who are either doing one or the other,” Redford said. The goal of the IP+Optical strategy is to meet unprecedented bandwidth demands, introduce more profitable IP services and to streamline provisioning and management of transport and data networks.

Like a lot of networking companies, Cisco is promoting the value of IP optical technologies and the company sees it as a key strategic area to be in, said Dan McLean, research manager, network support and integration, at International Data Corp. (IDC) Canada in Toronto. In a market that is going to be worth billions of dollars worldwide in the future, Cisco is trailing far behind the leaders in the IP optical area – Brampton, Ont.’s Nortel Networks Ltd. and Lucent Technologies Inc. of Murray Hill, N.J.

Optical network building “is really where it’s at, or certainly will be where it’s at in the future,” McLean said. “And in terms of where Cisco is going, I think it’s coming at it from a direction that they’re pretty familiar with, and that is the whole paradigm of IP technology.”

On the other hand, Cisco is a fairly minor player in the IP optical market and what the company is trying to do is to grow quickly in the marketplace, McLean said. He said he thinks Cisco is trying to get into the core of large carrier networks.

“One of the criticisms…of Cisco right now is that they don’t really have the breadth of product portfolio that would evolve them into any sort of leadership position in this space,” McLean said.

It is going to be a tough haul for Cisco, he said. It needs to bulk up on a portfolio of optical technologies before it can become a major player, but the firm nevertheless sees the potential in the market and is trying to break in and gain a foothold.