Network edge fosters new generation of access devices


A quartet of California-based companies—ANDA Networks (Sunnyvale), Atrica (Santa Clara), Larscom (Milipitas), and Luminous Networks (Cupertino)—recently unveiled compact, low-cost products targeted at the network edge. Different terminology may be used to define the boxes—multiservice transport platforms, aggregation switches, and multiservice access platforms—but they all serve the same purpose: To enable carriers to deliver multiple next-generation services to enterprise customers in multitenant units (MTUs), campus environments, or lower-density areas.

Access bandwidth requirements are growing by 25–30% per year, reports Mary Camarata, director of corporate communications at Larscom. According to a recent study from Infonetics Research (San Jose, CA), about 1.08 million access lines will require bandwidth over 1.5 Mbits/sec by 2008. "For a while, carriers have been able to deal with the few companies that had more than a T1 or 1.5-Mbit/sec need, just on a one-off basis," says Camarata. "But what's happening now is that more and more companies need more bandwidth, and they don't have a mass-deployable solution."

Further complicating matters, the edge network is undergoing the same "packetisation revolution" that has taken place in the core and metro, explains Raj Sharma, senior director of network architecture at Luminous. Traditional voice service is shifting from TDM to voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Traditional ATM and frame relay virtual private networks (VPNs), meanwhile, are also migrating to IP. Of course, this revolution is not going to occur overnight, says Sharma. "To start deploying these technologies, carriers need [equipment] that can take care of their legacy issues today and allow them to migrate to the future."

The value proposition for delivering new services in the access is based on service bundling, adds Sharma. "Service bundling has certainly seen success in the MSO [multiple-system-operator] space," he notes, "and I think several of the legacy carriers, the incumbents, are looking into it." Enterprise customers today are looking for three-fold service—voice, Internet access, and VPNs—and Ethernet has emerged as the best technology to implement that multiservice delivery.

"Ethernet has won, hands down, in the corporate network," declares Kevin Shu, director of product management at Larscom. "And if [an enterprise customer's] LAN is already based on an Ethernet interface, then the services that the carriers order better match that interface or they're going to create connectivity problems."

So the new access devices must support multiple new and legacy services, preferably over Ethernet; they must facilitate service bundling; they must be compact enough for the customer premises; and they must meet price points to justify their deployment. No problem, say edge equipment vendors.

At a list price of USD5,000, Larscom's Orion 7400 economically extends metro rings to customers located in lower-density areas or multitenant buildings, say company representatives. The platform is interoperable with carriers' existing SDH/SONET infrastructure, enabling them to deliver incremental Ethernet-based bandwidth services in addition to traditional TDM services. Ethernet over SDH/SONET makes sense, says Shu, because "it doesn't require any new investment on the carrier side to change their existing SONET infrastructure. All they need to do is put a box like our Orion 7400 on the access edge where customers get on the network."

ANDA Networks' EtherEdge 4000 also enables carriers to leverage their existing SDH/SONET networks or dark fibre pairs to deliver Ethernet services. An MTU device, the EtherEdge can serve as a traffic aggregation point for up to 24 subscriber lines or single-user EtherReach devices, a central point for providing VLAN interworking to the core network, or a handoff point for TDM services to voice switches. In terms of service delivery, ANDA's device supports Internet access, transparent LAN, bundled voice and data, Ethernet virtual private lines, and SANs.

Designed for small points of presence (PoPs) and other space-constrained locations, Atrica's A-4100 optical Ethernet aggregation switch delivers both TDM and Ethernet services and supports MPLS. Unlike ANDA and Larscom, however, the people at Atrica eschew SDH/SONET in favor of Ethernet. "Multiple studies have examined the use of Ethernet versus SONET," explains Nan Chen, director of product marketing at Atrica, "and those studies always indicate that Ethernet is much more cost-effective—at least three to five times more cost-effective than SONET/SDH."

Like Atrica, the people at Luminous also champion Ethernet, as well as resilient-packet-ring (RPR) technology, to provide 50-msec protection and redundant power. The company's PacketWave E500 multiservice transport platform may be housed in a "pizza-box form factor," but it supports all the services customers have come to expect from the company's larger boxes, contends Rob Kalman, director of strategic technology. These services include TDM, TDM grooming, high-speed Internet, and transparent LAN.

If analysts' numbers are any indication, Atrica, ANDA, Larscom, and Luminous are tapping into what should be a lucrative market for the foreseeable future. Infonetics expects total worldwide metro Ethernet equipment sales to top USD5 billion by 2006, an average annual growth rate of 23%. "Ethernet as a mechanism to extend services to end customers is gaining momentum worldwide," agrees Chen.

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