Equipe makes pitch for MPLS core

Equipe Communications Corp. is the latest Layer 2 core multiservice switch maker to unveil software that enables its switch to function as a label switching router in a Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS) backbone.

Equipe follows Alcatel, Cisco, Marconi and Nortel in adding MPLS to its Layer 2 ATM switches. Lucent, one of the leading vendors of ATM switches to carriers, has stumbled in making this transition by cancelling internal projects and products, but is trying again through a partnership with router vendor Juniper Networks.

The LSR capabilities in Equipe’s Evail 3.0 software enable the company’s E3200 core switch to set up MPLS label switched paths (LSP) as the backbone links in a multiservice network. The E3200 already performs native ATM switching and ATM/MPLS interworking; LSR now brings native MPLS switching to the platform, Equipe says.

This capability is aimed at incumbent Layer 2 service providers that require preservation of traffic guarantees and operational visibility for high-margin services such as ATM and frame relay. Though U.S. incumbents such as BellSouth and SBC have selected core routers as the foundation of their regional and national MPLS backbones, respectively, Equipe says these are IP-only networks and that carriers will establish a parallel switched MPLS backbone for Layer 2/Layer 3 multiservice applications.

“They still haven’t come to the conclusion that IP backbones will be multiservice,” says Joe Whitehouse, Equipe director of product management. “They have yet to commit to a vendor for the multiservice core for all of their services.”

BellSouth is initially positioning its MPLS-enabled BellSouth Regional IP Backbone (BRIB), constructed with Juniper core and Cisco edge routers, as an enabler of traffic engineering, enhanced performance and quality-of-service for IP transport and services. However, BellSouth plans to support Transparent LAN, ATM and Layer 2 VPN services on BRIB this year, and Equipe says it has tested the E3200’s LSR capabilities.

European carrier Telefonica also has tested the E3200’s LSR implementation. However, Equipe has not received any purchase orders for the product.

SBC has said it hopes to use the national IP network it is building for all its data services. Equipe might view the situation as an opportunity, but others might suggest it is desperation driven by a market for MPLS cores that appears to favour routers.

“Equipe’s positioning is not significantly unique from those of other multiservice switch makers, and carriers have yet to signal conclusively which direction they plan to go in terms of consolidating multiple overlay networks,” states Joe McGarvey an analyst at Current Analysis, in a report on Equipe’s Evail 3.0. “After four years in start-up mode without an announced customer, Equipe desperately needs to find a positioning that will resonate with carriers and evolve into revenue.”

Equipe contends it has the optimal platform for converged Layer 2/Layer 3 cores based on MPLS. The E3200 offers several features that routers do not, Equipe says, including native switching and interworking of ATM and MPLS, per-connection traffic guarantees, non-stop routing and forwarding of ATM and MPLS services, and virtual circuit and LSP scalability.

For instance, routers cannot facilitate the 1-to-1 virtual circuit-to-LSP mapping, Equipe says. A router maps an entire ATM port to an MPLS LSP, meaning that one LSP carries all ATM virtual circuits.

The E3200 maps real-time virtual circuits to individual LSPs, while best-effort virtual circuits are combined into the same tunnel LSP. In this way, delay-sensitive traffic would have distinct transmission guarantees.

Routers also lack native ATM switching and control planes; everything is forwarded or routed as packets. This could be a deterrent to carriers seeking a more seamless migration from ATM to MPLS, Equipe says.