Cisco, Alcatel battle over IP

Nearly a month after Alcatel SA announced new technologies that virtually eliminate packet loss on IP core networks, Cisco Systems Inc. has countered with its own IP-reliability technology.

Dubbed GRIP (Globally Resilient IP), the products seek to make traditionally unreliable IP networks as available as circuit-based voice networks by improving the protocols routers used to communicate with one another.

The technology reflects a similar strategy touted by Paris-based Alcatel SA, a company making a big push into core data routing market.

A software upgrade to the company’s operating system, Cisco IOS, GRIP will provide nonstop routing on several core, edge, and enterprise lines of the company’s routers.

Meanwhile, Cisco is attempting to shore up its reputation by reporting that Mier Communications Inc., a third-party testing company, has validated Cisco’s claim that GRIP running on Cisco’ 12000 series of Internet routers resulted in zero packet loss.

“We don’t need to convince anyone that [IP] resiliency and availability is a good thing,” said Sangeeta Anand, vice president of product marketing for Cisco Systems’ Internet Technologies Division. “The ILECs (Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers) and enterprises both want higher availability and so do the service providers, who also want high ROI on their installed networks,” Anand said.

Alcatel is reporting a similar story, announcing last month its ACEIS (Alcatel Carrier Environment Internet System). The technology vision brings carrier-class reliability to IP networks, but only initially to their 7770 Routing Core Platform and 7670 Routing Switch Platform.

Alcatel says it demonstrated nonstop routing last month to a number of analysts including including Mark Seery, a networking and switching program director at RHK, a San Francisco-based networking consultancy.

“This is an indicator of how vendors in the ATM space are migrating to IP services,” Seery said.

The crux of both technologies lies in their ability to manipulate the standard protocols used by routers to speak to one another, specifically IS-IS (Intermediate System to Intermediate System), BGP (Border Gateway Patrol), and OSPF (Open Shortest Path First). Both technologies permit automated and transport switchover when a failure occurs — without data interruption.

Both companies say failures typically result from corrupt routing information being communicated between two routers and claim the new technologies permit service providers to migrate some of their voice applications to IP.

Anand said the next version of the IOS upgrade will permit stateful switchover for NAT and IPsec. Cisco defines stateful switchover as the network’s ability to maintain its state and continue to forward packets even after an error occurs.

The first set of GRIP technologies will appear on several of Cisco’s routing product lines later this quarter and the second set, geared toward enterprise customers, in the second half of the year.

Also in the second half of the year, Cisco will improve reroute functionality for MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) paths, speeding the reroute time from seconds or minutes to 50 milliseconds.