Startup pushes IP services scalability

Convinced that large carriers are waiting for even more IP service-creation scalability than offered by recent startups, a new company recently announced a service switch supporting up to six million simultaneous users.

Celox Networks Inc. will unveil the Celox SCx 192, a combination large-scale access concentrator and IP service switch that provides network-based addressing, security, prioritization and other functions for corporate VPNs and mass-market broadband services.

The SCx 192 has eight I/O slots housing network interface modules with up to OC-192 (10Gbps) capacity on a chassis with a midplane architecture with no single central processor. The network interface modules are asymmetric, meaning service providers aren’t limited to different size interfaces for line-side and trunk-side connections. Those connections run from DS-3 (45Mbps) up to OC-192 on the individual network interface modules, which fully loaded can run an aggregate 80Gbps of user traffic.

The Celox switch supports IP services delivered over DSL, cable modem, native Ethernet or other access-loop technologies, and would typically sit in larger points of presence or super POPs behind termination devices that convert the access traffic into ATM or packet-over-SONET streams. Celox also offers gigabit Ethernet network interface modules for native Ethernet connections all the way from the user premise to the carrier POP or super POP, mostlikely for placement onto newly built, optical long-haul backbones.

“The aggregation point for all those technologies is the logical place to add intelligence,” said Hugh Kelly, senior vice-president for marketing and business development for Celox. Although in its base configuration the Celox SCx 192 costs US$600,000, the idea is to relieve large service providers of placing multiple service-creation switches at local telco Class 5 end offices, cable-modem termination switch sites or their equivalent at other types of service providers.

Celox executives make no bones that they’re gunning for large carriers, and the company has a strong AT&T Corp. connection. It hired as its chief operating officer Joe Lueckenhoff, who headed AT&T’s data services marketing during the mid-1990s when it recovered from a late start to take the lead in frame relay and ATM market share.

According to Kelly, the switch will initially be trialed by the AT&T Global Network Services division, formerly the IBM Corp.’s Global Network. But the box was also designed with cable providers, including AT&T Broadband, in mind. It has a feature called “secure segmentation” that can segment the traffic from different service providers on the same access pipe – a feature that cable providers will need if the industry or government mandates open access.

The key to Celox’s scalability is a hybrid of hardware- and software-based switching that takes account of just enough higher-layer protocol information to populate a proprietary “summary cell” with key quality-of-service and other information. IP service creation vendors that switch entirely in hardware have “high performance but also high risk,” said Kelly, because “if the market changes on you, you’re stuck because you’ve done it in hardware.”

Celox software upgrades will take account of standards development, but the Celox box begins with support for such emerging specs as Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS). That’s key for carriers – including AT&T and WorldCom Inc. – which use MPLS labels over an ATM backbone to create the equivalent of a meshed corporate WAN using only one frame relay interface at each network location.

Celox doesn’t go as far as competitor CoSine Communications Inc., whose IPSX 9000 service switch directly supports frame relay user interfaces. But that’s because the Celox gear generally would sit further upstream in the carrier network, Kelly explains, and by that point large carriers generally have converted even their users’ frame relay traffic to ATM cells for backbone transport. Celox also will compete with Nortel Network Corp.’s Shasta IP services switches and Lucent Technologies Inc.’s recent acquisition of Spring Tide Networks Inc.

The SCx 192 is expected to ship in June.

Celox is at