MSPP defies definition

Oct. 1, 2004

The term “multiservice provisioning platform” (MSPP) has always been something of a marketing tool, a catch-all to capture a new breed of box that is still evolving. Is it a next-generation SONET device with data capabilities? Is it a WDM device with SONET and data capabilities? How does it differ from a multiservice transport platform (MSTP)? Who are its target customers and how are they using the device? The MSPP may have its roots as a carrier class platform, but today’s devices seem to do a little of everything.

“The next-generation SONET or TDM-based architecture is the de facto winner in this segment,” declares Emanuel Nachum, vice president of marketing at ECI Telecom (Petah Tikva, Israel). That wasn’t always the case, however. As late as 2002, a debate raged between SONET-aware boxes and the so-called data-aware boxes, which were based on the ATM protocol and championed by the likes of Alidian and Chromatis. But when the CLECs floundered, the idea of a fully data-based MSPP also floundered. The incumbents, meanwhile, wanted a SONET-based platform that would leverage their existing networks while also allowing them to migrate to new revenue-generating services. Since then, says Perrin, “the MSPPs have all been based on SONET.”

The big promise of the MSPP is its ability to consolidate different kinds of customer traffic on a common infrastructure. “We talk about efficient networks and ‘operationalizing’ the network, but at the end of the day, it’s really about saving network operators money,” offers John Hawkins, senior marketing manager at Nortel Networks (Ottawa, Ontario). “And that’s also built into the value proposition of MSPPs in mundane ways, like footprint savings, rack-mount efficiency, and the need for fewer air conditioners--the sort of stuff that made the MSPP not only a multiservice platform but also the more logical evolution of the legacy ADM [add/drop multiplexer].”

The past few years have seen a new chapter in the evolution of the MSPP. Today’s vendors must continue to provide the best SONET and TDM functionality, but now contracts are being won or lost based on how well they support data traffic and services. “Given the dynamics of the downturn and everything that has happened along the way, Ethernet has become the star child in everyone’s mind,” Hawkins surmises.

Ethernet over SONET has been made possible by the development of generic framing procedure (GFP), link capacity adjustment scheme (LCAS), and virtual concatenation (VC)-all of which are now specified in every RFP on the market, reports Nachum. “It’s a must-have,” he says. “If you want to play in this market, you must support it.” Vendors like Nortel and Luminous Networks (acquired by Lantern Communications, which is now part of C-Cor) are also actively promoting the use of resilient-packet-ring (RPR) technology to support data services.

Cisco Systems (San Jose, CA) and ECI Telecom have moved into yet another direction, adding both data and WDM capabilities to the MSPP to support greater capacity and higher-bit-rate wavelength-based services. And with these new capabilities comes yet another acronym: MSTP. “It’s another flavor of the MSPP,” explains Nachum. “It’s hard to differentiate what does what, but MSTPs typically have more integration of DWDM and CWDM and [support] longer distances and transport capability. MSPPs are more service-oriented and are often located closer to the network edge to support different services over SONET or Ethernet.”

As the MSPP has evolved, so too has its customer base. Initially developed for the ILEC community, the MSPP has found applications within large enterprises-universities, governments, health, and financial institutions-and even utility customers, who use the MSPP in their internal communications networks to facilitate data collection and data backup. ECI Telecom reports a growing interest in the use of MSPPs to support wireless networking, and Nortel points to the cable multiple systems operators (MSOs) as a growing customer segment.

Another service in the multiservice part of the MSPP acronym is garnering a great deal of attention: SAN extension. “A lot of the early [SAN] deployments had been based on DWDM technology-real high-bandwidth links-but we’re starting to see the market move down to businesses that are quite large but don’t really have the requirements for WDM,” observes Perrin. “This is where SONET is starting to come into play, where you have high-speed optical links between data centers but not necessarily DWDM levels of capacity.”

Large enterprises, medical facilities, and especially financial institutions are driving the market for SAN extension. Thanks to new regulatory requirements that mandate stricter guidelines on how far apart data centers should be located to support data recovery, large enterprises are now looking to send their data across the WAN.

Several vendors are taking advantage of this increased interest in SAN extension by adding Fibre Channel (FC), Escon, and Ficon interfaces to their MSPPs. Cisco was one of the first MSPP vendors to add SAN extension capabilities, launching the SL Series FC interfaces for its flagship ONS 15454 product. Last year, Fujitsu Network Communications (Richardson, TX) introduced a combination FC and Gigabit Ethernet card for its widely deployed Flashwave 4000 MSPP to transport storage over existing networks. Nortel has also added storage over SONET and SDH interfaces to its OPTera Metro portfolio to enable small and medium enterprises to meet the stringent latency, availability, and reliability requirements of storage applications.

While the enterprises are the targeted end users, the business “is mostly going to come from the carriers serving the enterprises,” says Perrin. In the interim, the MSPP will continue to evolve to meet the needs of all its potential customers. The real value proposition of the MSPP seems to be its inability to be categorized.

Meghan Fuller is the news editor at Lightwave.