Cri de core – data equipment telecommunication vendors attack asynchronous transfer mode switch scalability issue – Column
High-capacity ATM switching, it seems, has fallen on hard times. It seems that not too long ago, major vendors such as Lucent Technologies (then AT&T Network Systems), Fujitsu, Alcatel and NEC were planning migration paths for all their customers and prospects on the basis of a high-speed ATM platform.
Cisco Systems, Cascade and Newbridge Networks upset the whole apple cart by adding considerable scalability to their ATM edge switches, thus finding instant rapport with local exchange carriers looking to quickly accommodate the rising tide of data traffic in their networks.
So, while a bevy of Class 5 switch makers sought to become “third” vendors to the Bell regional holding companies through a myriad of strategies built around heavy-duty central office switching platforms, a group of data guys slipped in the back door.
The success of data communications equipment suppliers in the carrier market has sent most traditional telecom vendors back to their labs. Most assume–correctly–that with the exponential growth of Internet services still ahead, the window of opportunity is far from closed.
Outflanked on the low-speed switching side, at least for now, switch suppliers are focusing their efforts in their traditional area of strength: the core network.
One must give these vendors credit for never missing a beat. When they were prepping the market for large-scale ATM switches, they relentlessly pounded the scalability argument. Even as the emphasis shifts away from switching to ATM and Sonet transport platforms, Lucent, Alcatel and Fujitsu, to name just three, show no signs of abating the scalability message.
Alcatel, for one, believes ATM edge switches can scale only so far. And in telco networks, where 1% growth translates to hundreds of thousands of lines, there is fertile ground on which to spread the seeds of doubt.
A mere 4% growth in ADSL penetration amounts to a lot of customers, enough to strain even the most robust IP switch, suggests Tom McDermott III, vice president and chief technical officer at Alcatel Network Systems.
“Do you really want to switch and route in IP?” asks McDermott. “ATM is a transport mechanism to bring all IP to one place to deal with it.”
Alcatel is building its data networking architecture around optical transmission equipment and interfaces within the CO. The first step is the “optical CO,” an environment where all the CO equipment links via OC-3. The classic electronic interfaces, DS-1 and the like, are outre. It should be noted that Alcatel does not say that services based on DS-3 and DS-1 will go away, just their use in linking high-capacity network gear.
The next–and most important–step, which Alcatel hopes to make at Supercomm ’97 in June, is the integration of a virtual path switching module–or VPX–on its Sonet cross-connect equipment.
In adopting the concept of virtual path switching, Alcatel is not alone. Lucent and Fujitsu also are putting their own spins on the technology.
Meanwhile, Fujitsu’s latest attempt to capture some of the market going to data switch makers is the implementation of “Fast Lane” technology. GTE Telephone Operations is among the first LECs to test Fast Lane.
Its application uses the box to convert Ethernet data into AIM, thereby creating virtual Ethernet WANs for its customers.
While the Fast Lane box does not have to be located at the CO, it does take over some of the switching functions and provides a transparent medium for data, eliminating data interface problems back at the switch.
This highlights the second selling point: transparency. As users and carriers experiment with ATM, tag switching and 10BaseT, a great deal of uncertainty exists as to what format or formats will become more common. Infrastructure vendors figure on selling protocol piece of mind.
Switching, in the minds of the largest telecom vendors, belongs in the core of the network. Their aim over the next 12 to 24 months is to bring it back from edge, so to speak. If virtual switching pans out like they hope, they indeed will have some convincing technology in their favor.
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