Vendors angle for edge in multiservice market

An established vendor and startup each unveiled multiservice routing and switching products and enhancements this week for a market that has become white hot.

Startup Hammerhead Systems Inc. introduced an edge switch that is designed to migrate service providers from legacy Layer 2 services, such as ATM and Frame Relay, to newer Layer 2 and Layer 3 services, such as Ethernet and Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS) VPNs.

Meanwhile, Alcatel SA rolled out hardware and software enhancements to its 7670 Routing Switch Platform (RSP) intended to add support for Ethernet and boost service performance and flexibility.

The Alcatel and Hammerhead offerings are the latest in a flurry of multiservice edge announcements from incumbent vendors and startups. Two weeks ago, Nortel unveiled its latest edge product, the MPE 9000 multiservice router; Lucent Technologies Inc. is expected to roll out the next-generation CBX 3500 next month; and Cisco Systems Inc., Juniper Networks Inc. and Laurel Networks Inc. have all added or enhanced multiservice edge routers in the past few months.

Also, Ciena Corp. acquired Layer 2 multiservice edge switch start-up WaveSmith Networks a year ago after WaveSmith landed a DSL aggregation deal with SBC Communications Inc.

But Hammerhead’s HSX 6000, which compares most closely with WaveSmith’s two-year-old DN switches, might present a twist to the plot. The switch includes two features analysts say are differentiators in the multiservice edge arena.

The first is called bandwidth pooling. This capability lets carriers free system capacity from underutilized forwarding cards. They can add processing resources and capacity to other physical interfaces or services on an as-needed basis, Hammerhead says.

Another innovation is a dual control plane with “bridge and roll” capabilities. The HSX 6000 supports ATM and MPLS control planes — instead of one or the other — and carriers can execute a “graceful cutover” of circuits from legacy ATM cores to MPLS backbones, or bridge and roll.

“This design is definitely unique from other next-generation Layer 2 switches that we’ve seen,” says Mark Bieberich, an analyst at The Yankee Group.

Hammerhead benefits “a little bit from the fact that they are a couple years later,” says Joe McGarvey, an analyst with Current Analysis Inc. “They have a better read on what carriers want.”

At the same time, though, Ciena’s WaveSmith offering already is deployed by SBC and Verizon Communications Inc., McGarvey notes. Other challenges facing the small, unproven Hammerhead is lining up a partnership with a large, financially stable vendor already entrenched in carrier networks. Hammerhead is said to be partnering with Fujitsu in a non-exclusive arrangement, but observers say the company needs something tighter.

The HSX 6000 might attract such an arrangement. In addition to the pooling and bridge and roll features, the switch scales from 30Gbps to 120Gbps full duplex, while squeezing into one-quarter of a telco equipment rack.

Interface support ranges from T-1 to OC-192c/10Gbps Ethernet, offering Frame Relay, ATM, point-to-point protocol, packet-over-SONET and, obviously, Ethernet services.

The switch also offers one-to-one hot redundancy of switch fabric and controllers, with hitless switchovers and hitless software upgrades, Hammerhead says.

A redundant, 30Gbps full-duplex HSX 6000 system costs less than US$100,000, Hammerhead says. The switch and its management system, which is called Pegador, are available now.

Alcatel’s latest multiservice offering includes Release 2.2 of the 7670 RSP’s software. The software includes RFC 2547 MPLS VPNs that can use Alcatel’s ACEIS Non-Stop Routing technology; Ethernet Virtual Leased Line service over MPLS; and Ethernet to FR/ATM Service Interworking over MPLS.

MPLS service resiliency is further augmented with Label Switch Path “modify without break,” a capability to increase an LSP’s bandwidth without disrupting service.

New hardware for the 7670 includes the Channelized Multi-Rate 48 Line Card (MR48), which supports 2.4Gbps of wire-rate IP, MPLS and ATM forwarding. The card also supports concurrent routing and signaling protocols for IP/MPLS and ATM Private Network to Network Interface on the same port, Alcatel says.

The MR48 is software configurable to enable any service on any port using any protocol, the company says. Alcatel did not release pricing information.

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