Nortel unveils open routing software

Nortel Networks took a swipe at Cisco Systems Inc. last month when the Brampton, Ont.-based firm outlined plans to create open, standards-based, IP routing software that would run on distributed devices rather than centralized routing platforms.

Cisco dominates the routing market, with

a market share of more than 70 per cent. The company differentiates its routing gear through the software that runs on its routers. If Nortel’s plan to separate routing software from centralized platforms succeeds, Cisco could lose this differentiator.

While Nortel’s plan has some exciting possibilities, said Dan McLean, an analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, at this point it’s little more than a vision statement.

“There’s no sort of product roadmap and there’s barely a strategy that’s defined,” Mclean noted. “This is more of a concept statement.”

Nortel’s initiative, called Open IP Environment would see Nortel provide its open IP routing software to other vendors and developers. The developers would work on software that would run in the Open IP Environment and provide functions such as QoS.

Kalai Kalaichelvan, general manager of Nortel’s Open IP Environment, said Nortel’s software will drive network intelligence to the true edge of the network.

“Once you move some of the intelligence to the edge of the network, a certain type of processing can be done by your handheld, PDA, or mobile phone.”

Spreading out network intelligence in this way will help eliminate Internet bottlenecks, Kalaichelvan said.

“Today if you want to get into the Internet, the access point is routers,” he explained. “If you look at the growth of Internet access…we believe the access points aren’t scalable enough. So there’s really going to be a bottleneck there.”

Distributing routing intelligence should also reduce the cost of access routers, Kalaichelvan said. For instance, if users currently want to implement QoS over their networks, they’re forced to use one vendors’ systems and pay whatever price their vendor of choice deems fair.

To help prove its point on pricing, Nortel has dropped the prices on its access routers by up to 50 per cent.

“The big picture here,” Kalaichelvan said, “is moving the industry from a vertically integrated router business model into a horizontal business model. It requires more than the one or two vendors who are currently in the router market. It requires people from the network processor group, some of the OS vendors, some of the management vendors.”

According to Al Delorenzi, chief technology officer of Nortel’s enterprise solutions group, an early version of Nortel’s open IP software is already included in Windows NT and a version will also ship with Windows 2000.

Nortel and Intel Corp. have also announced plans to include elements of the Open IP Environment in Intel’s Internet Exchange (IX) Architecture. Intel will include elements of Open IP in its IX Architecture components and reference the Nortel software to other IX Architecture developers.

The IX Architecture is an Intel framework for designing networking gear using programmable silicon.

Nortel says it has 75 companies that are helping take its Open IP software to market and will identify more of the companies over the coming months.

Commenting on Nortel’s announcement, Nick Tidd, director of sales for 3Com Canada, said, “I guess what it’s going to boil down to is we’re going to have a battle in the switched space.”

Tidd believes a distributed, open routing environment makes sense and is something 3Com has been promoting for some time by embedding routing software on ASICs populating 3Com’s NICs.

The last thing customers want, Tidd said, is to be locked into one vendors’ equipment throughout their network.

“If you need like equipment on each end of a connection, that’s a closed world,” he said. “That’s a proprietary world.”