Cisco expands carrier Ethernet lineup

Cisco to introduce new switches, hardware modules at Telecom 05 show

Cisco Systems is getting ready to sell more gear into the burgeoning market for Ethernet services from carriers, preparing to introduce new switches and hardware modules at the Telecom 05 show in Las Vegas this week.

Enterprises are snapping up Ethernet services from both new and established telecommunications carriers because IT departments understand the technology from years of experience building and managing LANs, analysts said. Extending it out to the WAN (wide area network) simplifies things for corporate IT departments, and lets them add bandwidth in any increment they want without installing a new WAN router interface, according to Michael Howard, a principal analyst at Infonetics Research, in Campbell, California. Carriers also are using Ethernet to deliver residential broadband services such as VDSL (very high-speed digital subscriber line), he said.

The new Cisco products serve two main purposes: delivering Ethernet packets directly to residences and offices and aggregating traffic from edge access devices into the carrier's network.

The Cisco ME 3400 Series Ethernet Access Switches are 24-port devices specifically designed for Carrier Ethernet. They are designed to reside in the basement of a small multitenant residential or office building, or in a facility that would serve a small neighborhood. Equipped with 10/100MbpsĀ ports, the switches are intended to deliver exponentially higher bandwidth to end customers than typical DSL or leased T-1 offerings bring today. They feature two optical fiber uplinks to connect into a carrier infrastructure such as FTTP (fiber to the premises) or FTTN (fiber to the node), said Brendan Gibbs, director of product management for Cisco's Broadband Edge & Midrange Routing Business Unit.

Each port on an ME 3400 switch is intended for just one subscriber and the switches have port-level security, a feature that prevents any user from seeing packets intended for users hooked up to other ports, Gibbs said. This is different from the typical use of a access switch in an enterprise, where traffic among members of a workgroup is exchanged via the access switch, he said.

Also for subscriber Ethernet access, Cisco announced new modules for chassis-based products that typically are used for bigger multitenant buildings. For the Catalyst 4500, there is a new interface module with 48 ports for 100Mbps connectivity over fiber, which does not include port-level security. For the Catalyst 6500 and 7600 there is a new route processor, called the Supervisor Engine 32, for adding routing capacity to those platforms. It also includes eight Gigabit Ethernet ports, Gibbs said.

Cisco also unveiled new access modules for its ONS 15454 optical switch products. Incumbent carriers have invested in optical switches because they traditionally have used SONet (synchronous optical network) fiber rings to serve metropolitan areas, said Mark Milinkovich, director of products and technology in Cisco's marketing organization for service providers.

For Ethernet aggregation, Cisco introduced a set of modules featuring 10Gbps Ethernet fiber interfaces. For Catalyst 4500 Series switches, the company unveiled the Supervisor II Engine, which boosts the platform's switching capacity and includes two 10Gbps ports itself. Cisco also introduced the SPA Interface Processor 600 (SIP-600) for Cisco 7600 Series routers and the SIP-401, SIP-501 and SIP-601 interface modules for the Cisco XR 12000 Series routers.

Network equipment vendors have been trying to sell Ethernet gear to carriers for a long time, but only in the past two or three years have they come out with products that can deliver services as steadily as service providers need, analysts said. Compared with enterprise LAN equipment, carrier gear needs more redundancy and has to be able to support specific service-level agreements with customers.

"Some people thought they could just take their enterprise switch and re-market it as a carrier solution, and that doesn't work," said Ray Mota, an analyst at Synergy Research Group, based in Scottsdale, Arizona.

A major step in getting Ethernet equipment to meet carrier expectations was the development of specifications by the Metro Ethernet Forum, a group of service providers and vendors, analysts said. The group is now testing products and certifying that key functions work according to its standards.

One of those key functions is VPLS (virtual private LAN service), a technology widely used to emulate the guaranteed performance that MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) makes possible in the core of a carrier network. Though some large enterprises have been able to set up MPLS, the Ethernet-based VPLS is much easier to work with, Infonetics' Howard said. Cisco's products can support VPLS as well as other services, according to Gibbs.

Now that specialized gear can now deliver carrier-class Ethernet services, enterprises are embracing them, according to Howard. In a recent Infonetics survey of large corporations in North America that are migrating to new WAN services from traditional Frame Relay and ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode), 48 percent of the companies said they are using carrier Ethernet service at their headquarters, Howard said.

Cisco stands out from its major rivals, such as Alcatel, with a broader product line that reaches all the way from customer premises equipment to the core of the network, and including both digital and optical platforms, the analysts said. That can make it easier to build and maintain a network, because all the products use Cisco software and there are some special Cisco features that can be implemented across the common network, Howard said.

The Cisco 3400 Ethernet Access Switch is set to ship in November, starting at $1,995. The SIP-600 module for the 7600 router is available now for $90,000. The Cisco XR 12000 SIP-401, SIP-501 and SIP-601 modules are due in December for $45,000, $59,000 and $90,000, respectively. The new cards for the Cisco ONS 15454 are available now, with a 10/100M bps copper interface module priced at $9,500 and a 100Mbps fiber module priced at $17,000. The 48-port module for the Catalyst 4500 is available now, starting at $6,995. The Supervisor Engine 32 is available now, with a starting list price of $15,000 for the hardware and $10,000 for the software.

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