The death rattle of a piece of network equipment can be unnerving, particularly if you’re a service provider.
But, as they say, stuff happens. That’s why many manufacturers of Ethernet gear have taken advantage of the standard’s ability to generate a “dying gasp” signal that power is about to be lost.
For Montreal-based Fibrenoire Internet Inc., whose fibre optic network delivers Ethernet business services in Quebec and Ontario, the ability for its customer premise demarcation devices to generate such a signal became more important in the last year as the provider expanded.
It became a key reason why it began a search for a new device, one of several upgrades it made to the network.
But the effort was not only a lesson in picking the right features. It is also a lesson in why IT managers need to keep on good terms with their suppliers – and vice versa.
“We decided to switch because there was a lack of functionality and visibility on the network,” with the existing demarcation device, said Jean-Francois Levesque, the provider’s chief technology officer and co-founder.
Not only did it take up a lot of space, the devices needed to connect to a switch before linking to the fibre optic.
One of the most important capabilities any new device needed, he added, was the ability to send a “dying gasp” signal if it failed so his technicians would understand there was a power fault and not a cut in the fibre.
Last summer the provider tested demarcation devices from four suppliers – MRV Communications Inc., RAD Data Communications Ltd., Ciena Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. – before settling on Ciena’s 3960 and 3920 Service Delivery Switches.
The Ciena switches delivered “dying gasp” signals more reliably than the others, Levesque said, and the price was right.
The 3960 is a 1U-sized device with redundant power supplies. It includes eight GbE and four 10 GbE ports, which gives Fibrenoire flexibility to offer a port for every service a customer wants to buy, Levesque added.
Since the fall it has deployed six of them and 100 of the 3920s in customer sites.
The move was one of several the provider made as it upgraded its network. Founded in 2007 as a provider for businesses, the company decided to build a fibre optic-only network because it offers unlimited capacity. That proved right because today it can offer up to 10 GbE service.
When it decided to move into MPLS services, Fibrenoire realized the equipment it had wasn’t enough. With a network core based around Cisco Systems Inc.’s ASR 9000 Aggregation Services Routers, it first turned to the company’s 7600 series routers in the spring of 2010.
But when Cisco came out with the ME 3600X Ethernet Access Switch later that year, the company was determined to get them for their 10 Gbps speed and the ability to offer MPLS-based VPN services from within the access layer.
“We were the first in Canada to get the ME 3600X,” Levesque says proudly.
Adding the new Cisco routers and Ciena switches within a relatively short period of time put some pressure on his team, Levesque acknowledged. “The biggest problem was the manpower and the learning curve to configure and manage the services,” he said.
What is important, he said, is to “keep the vendor next to you” – if not literally, then figuratively.
For example, when a problem arose with switch shipments from Ciena [Nasdaq: CIEN], the manufacturer was quick to resolve the issue.
Similarly, whenever he had problems with the ME 3600X, Cisco [Nasdaq: CSCO] was quick to reply. It helped the equipment maker has a lab in Montreal. Levesque says he speaks twice a month to the ME 3600X’s architect and has a “direct line” to other product managers.
So when the ME 3600X launched, Leveque was quick to complain that it didn’t support the IPv6 protocol. Levesque admits he likely wasn’t the only customer to protest, but in the next software release that omission was corrected.
“We’re a small company,” Levesque says. “We’ve grown fast and we don’t do things like big companies do.” It helps when manufacturers are supportive.