Nortel, Cisco meet across GTE network

Jan. 1, 1998

Nortel, Cisco meet across GTE network

By STEPHEN HARDY

Gte Corp., Irving, TX, recently rolled out another piece of heavy artillery for its siege of the Internet transport market with the announcement that Nortel, in Brampton, ON, Canada, will provide gte Internetworking with 10-Gbit/sec OC-192 and dense wavelength-division multiplexing (dwdm) equipment for a new trans-U.S. fiber-optic network. Nortel joins San Jose, CA-based Cisco Systems Inc. and Qwest Communications Corp., Denver, CO, in the gte Internetworking camp. gte has given Nortel and Cisco marching orders to ensure that Nortel`s Synchronous Optical Network (sonet) technology meshes smoothly with the sonet capabilities of the Cisco 12000 Series Gigabit Switch Routers that gte has purchased for the network. When this assignment is completed, gte Internetworking will have a powerful network--and Nortel and Cisco will have valuable experience that could aid them in jointly addressing future large network applications.

gte formed gte Internetworking last September. The unit combines gte Intelligent Network Services, which provided Internet services to residential and small business customers, with the assets that gte acquired the previous month when it purchased bbn Corp., the arpanet pioneer and Internet powerhouse. The aim was to provide a broad variety of networking services, such as dial-up and dedicated Internet access, Web hosting, managed security, network management, systems integration, and Web-based application and integration services.

gte Internetworking hit the ground running thanks to gte Corp.`s May 1997 purchase of 24 dark fibers on the 13,000-mi national network that Qwest has under construction (see figure; see also Lightwave, July 1997, page 1). The Qwest network also will use Nortel OC-192 and dwdm equipment to drive traffic over TrueWave non-zero-dispersion-shifted fiber from Lucent Technologies, Holmdel, NJ. However, although gte Internetworking will share a transport systems vendor with Qwest, it will not share equipment in most cases, according to Steve Blumenthal, vice president and general manager for global network infrastructure at gte Internetworking.

"We have separate shelters along the right-of-way and separate facilities for terminating, where the optoelectronic equipment will be positioned," he explains. "In a few places, we`ve made an agreement to share a facility with Qwest. But mostly we have our own separate facilities. So the fiber will come into our facility, and we`ll provide the terminating electronics at that point." To equip these facilities, gte Networking will receive s/dms TransportNode OC-192 systems and Multi-wavelength Optical Repeater dwdm equipment worth more than $150 million from Nortel.

While gte Internetworking also purchased additional capacity along the East Coast from sources Blumenthal would not reveal, the company`s network construction schedule essentially parallels that of Qwest, he says. Like Qwest, gte Internetworking`s infrastructure will light up from west to east, with a completion date in the later part of this year--although Blumenthal hoped to have some segments carrying traffic last month. The network will initially be linear, with the eventual creation of four sonet rings.

Selling extra capacity

Blumenthal says that the network will serve a variety of customers, including those solicited by other branches of gte. "After we`ve satisfied our internal uses and the needs for gte customers, we expect that we will also have additional capacity available for bulk or wholesale sales," he adds. "And we`re definitely interested in that business as well."

According to Blumenthal, "We expect that the Internet traffic will be one of the biggest--or other private data network traffic will be the biggest--share of that." Providing high-speed, reliable service will therefore prove of paramount importance. As a result, Blumenthal has kept a close eye on the current state of the networking art, particularly when it comes to the transmission speeds of data routing equipment. Currently, he is limited to OC-12 (622 Mbits/sec) by the Cisco 12000 Gigabit Switch Router. Asked when he expects to use his fiber network`s full OC-192 capabilities, he replies, "That really will depend on the availability of [2.5-Gbit/sec] OC-48 and then OC-192 interfaces from router and switch vendors. But the routers that we`ll be deploying on this network will initially be capable of OC-12, and we expect them to be able to move up to OC-48 fairly soon--and then we`re hoping to be able to go to OC-192 someday. But that`s dependent upon advances in the router and switch technology that we`re not controlling directly--but we`re providing the requirements to the vendors." Blumenthal left open the door that would lead to a change in router vendors if his requirements warranted.

Thus, the pressure will be on Cisco to punch up the operating speeds of its equipment in the future. Near term, the company will be working closely with Nortel to ensure that its routing equipment interfaces smoothly with Nortel`s fiber-optic transport equipment. This shouldn`t prove a difficult task, according to Brian McFadden, assistant vice president of high-capacity applications, sonet networks, at Nortel. McFadden says that the two companies will assemble a team of engineers to establish a formal test program using high-fidelity network simulations. The process, the first round of which should be near completion this month, will examine such issues as 1+1 protection switching, the network-wide effects of a ring switch, and what happens when one vendor`s equipment or another`s loses a node.

Checking fault modes

The engineers should have few if any problems that require major changes to the equipment, according to McFadden. "I don`t anticipate hardware fixes because, first of all, sonet is a fairly standard interface. At the physical level, it`s fairly well-defined down to the optical specs," he explains. "I think the areas where we`re probably going to find [inconsistencies]--if we find anything--will be in the fault mode areas: What happens when they initiate a protection switch; what happens when we initiate one; what happens when a node loses power and then powers back up on one side or the other? How does the other system react? So [the interoperability testing will examine] all of the kind of operational modes that can happen in a network and make sure that both systems react the way they`re intended to in terms of their design. I don`t expect many issues; certainly, if there are issues, it`s probably more in the firmware/software domain."

McFadden envisions the two companies working together further to bring additional capabilities to the gte Internetworking infrastructure. While no formal agreement is in place for such tasks, McFadden says that network management and service development represent potential areas of continued joint endeavors.

Will the experience of working together on this network lead Nortel and Cisco to tackle future business as a team? McFadden says that while it is important that two major equipment vendors in disparate fields can work together in such a fashion, discussion of additional teaming arrangements would only occur "one customer at a time." Still, drawing an analogy to the multivendor work of the sonet Interoperability Forum (see Lightwave, November 1997, page 22), McFadden says multivendor interoperability in general should prove a boon to providers of communications services and bandwidth.

"We`re excited about it because I think we`re going to ensure that the industry moves forward together on a solid footing when we`re talking about Internet protocol networking across sonet," he says.

Meanwhile, Blumenthal looks forward to the capabilities that fiber optics will provide his company and his customers. dwdm in particular should prove important, he believes. "I think there are some tremendous advantages in dwdm technology in its ability to rapidly provision additional wavelengths on the fiber, which will help us keep up with the growth that we`re expecting in our Internet traffic," he explains. "We`re very heavily targeting the Web business, and dwdm will give us the flexibility of really turning up additional bandwidth as the Web hosting business continues to grow. Our traffic on the Internet side is doubling every four to six months." q

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