Alcatel-Lucent unveils IP/optical convergence strategy

SEPTEMBER 16, 2009 By Stephen Hardy -- Alcatel-Lucent has announced a strategy to help carriers optimize the use of core routers and optical transport equipment. Called “Converged Backbone Transformation,” the philosophy combines IP over DWDM where appropriate with the ability to offload pass-through traffic from routers when possible.

SEPTEMBER 16, 2009 By Stephen Hardy -- Alcatel-Lucent has announced a strategy to help carriers optimize the use of core routers and optical transport equipment. Called “Converged Backbone Transformation,” the philosophy combines IP over DWDM where appropriate with the ability to offload pass-through traffic from routers when possible.

Alcatel-Lucent did not pair the strategy announcement with the debut of new product capabilities. However, Houman Moderres, IP marketing director, and Jim Jones, optic marketing manager, indicated in an interview yesterday that upcoming enhancements to the company’s optical and router products will be necessary to completely realize Alcatel-Lucent’s vision.

That vision, in essence, is to enable carrier networks to handle traffic at the lowest layer possible. Data plane, control, plane, and management plane integration between the IP and optical layers will form the foundation of the Converged Backbone Transformation approach -- and several upcoming software-based product enhancements to router and optical platforms over the next two years or so will target these areas, the Alcatel-Lucent sources said.

The philosophy aims to enable carriers to reduce the amount of unnecessary packet processing core routers perform in many current networks, Moderres and Jones said. However, what defines “unnecessary” can vary from carrier to carrier because of a combination of network topology, service mix, and how a given carrier is organizationally structured. Alcatel-Lucent will therefore strive to support a variety of grooming techniques to meet this patchwork of scenarios. These techniques include wavelength-level grooming (which the company spokesmen identified with the IP over DWDM philosophy Cisco espouses), port-level grooming, and sub-port-level grooming. The last of these will be enabled at least in part by the advent of ODU Flex capabilities, now in standards development.

In the view of Moderres and Jones, wavelength-level grooming best serves hub-and-spoke topologies where the need for grooming flexibility is small. At the other extreme, carriers with highly flexible any-to-any connectivity needs will want the ability to groom at the sub-port level. Moderres and Jones asserted that the Converged Backbone Transformation approach can save carriers at least 30% in capital expenditures as their requirements become more complex, mainly through reducing the number of core router ports required to meet service needs.Operational expenditures should lower as well, they said.

Carriers are beginning to evolve their core network approaches with router-port reduction in mind, the spokesmen asserted. They pointed to the recent announcement that Qwest will use Alcatel-Lucent equipment in its core network upgrade program as evidence. However, since not every carrier has adopted such a strategy yet, the company expects to play an evangelical role as they tout the benefits of Converged Backbone Transformation.

At least one analyst believes the company is taking the right approach. "Internet, voice, data, and especially video traffic continue to increase, pressuring service providers to find ways to cut the cost of reliably transporting the traffic while simultaneously delivering new services," Michael Howard, principal analyst at Infonetics Research, was quoted as saying in the press release that describes the new strategy. "In a recent Infonetics survey, two-thirds of the service providers responded that they expect to combine their data and transport operations by 2010. Alcatel-Lucent's approach fits service provider goals of efficiently scaling many traffic types in a converged IP and optical architecture, while offloading the core routers, to help streamline their core networks."

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