Alcatel integrating network layers for efficiency

Its long-term strategy is to make IP routers and optical gear work smoothly together with unfied management

Alcatel-Lucent on Wednesday set a course for tighter integration of the two main components of long-haul service-provider networks, saying it will help carriers streamline their infrastructure and run it more efficiently.

The company is a major player in carrier optical transport and is gaining ground on Cisco Systems and Juniper in IP (Internet Protocol) routing, according to industry analysts.

Now, with the Converged Backbone Transformation Solution, it is leveraging its expertise in both technologies so the two can work more smoothly together and be managed more easily.

The payoff for enterprises that rely on carriers to interconnect their offices could be both faster provisioning and lower prices, said Ray Mota of Synergy Research Group.

Most service-provider networks use electronic packet routers to direct Internet and private IP traffic, but also optical infrastructure to transport data over long distances.

The two domains have remained largely separate, but Alcatel said it will bring its IP and optical systems closer together, with more flexible capacity-handling and unified management.

Today's IP and optical network elements effectively just hand off traffic to each other without much interaction, and they typically are managed by separate teams, said Lindsay Newell, vice president of marketing for IP at Alcatel.

His company is best equipped to make these systems work more closely together because it has experience making both parts, Newell said.

"If you go to a router vendor, you get a router answer. If you go to an optical vendor, you get an optical answer," Newell said. Alcatel says it is skilled in both.

One thing Alcatel aims to provide is a more granular way of feeding traffic from IP routers into optical infrastructure. Current routers from most vendors can map one router port to one wavelength of light for optical transport.

Alcatel is introducing that technology, called IP over dense wave-division multiplexing, on its service routers now. But IP over DWDM isn't ideal, because it wastes optical capacity if there isn't enough traffic from the IP port to fill the wavelength, Newell said.

Alcatel plans to offer the ability to send traffic from multiple ports or from multiple virtual LANs into a single wavelength, Newell said. Carriers can use this to make more efficient use of each wavelength, so potentially they won't have to deploy or light up as many wavelengths, he said.

This could save space and power in carrier facilities as well as money. The company will implement the capabilities using existing and emerging industry standards, adding some proprietary features of its own but keeping its products interoperable with gear from other vendors at a more basic level.

Also through closer integration, Alcatel will allow IP routers to send traffic straight across the optical network, bypassing unnecessary IP routing along the way. This core router bypass capability will let traffic destined from, say, Los Angeles to New York go straight to its destination without going through an IP router in Chicago, Newell said.

At a higher level, Alcatel said it can integrate the management of both network layers because it supplies both. Among other things, the IP and optical management systems will know what resources are available on each and be able to communicate fault management alarms. Ultimately, the IP network elements will be able to reroute traffic if there's a failure in the optical layer, and vice versa.

The Converged Backbone Transformation Solution is a set of features that will roll out over time. Immediately, Alcatel is delivering features including IP over DWDM on service routers and the initial elements of information exchange between IP and optical, such as common alarm views and fault isolation.

Next year, the company plans to provide static provisioning for port-level and VLAN traffic grooming. Later it will offer more dynamic interaction between the layers, including dynamic provisioning for failover, Newell said.

The integration ultimately can save carriers at least 30 percent in capital expenditures on a network built from the ground up with the new technology, according to Newell. Savings for carrier networks with a large amount of existing infrastructure will be more incremental, he said.

Many carriers are grappling with data traffic that is growing far faster than the revenue they can collect for it, and this type of streamlining approach could help them, Synergy's Mota said.

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Stephen Lawson

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