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.