Carrier Ethernet Growing Faster and Smarter

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As numerous vendors set up demonstrations of carrier Ethernet gear for this week's NXTcomm trade show in Las Vegas, an industry group strategized about how to clear the path for faster optical and Ethernet links than ever.

On Monday, the Road to 100G Alliance formed a technical committee to fill in gaps in interoperability among various Ethernet and optical technologies that are under development for 100G-bps (bit-per-second) networks, spanning from enterprises to carrier backbones.

Ethernet is expanding into metropolitan-area networks because it's already ubiquitous in enterprises, which lowers the cost of mass-produced components, and it's simpler to use Ethernet all the way to an optical carrier backbone, according to analyst Michael Howard of Infonetics Research. Most carriers have been using time-division multiplexing systems such as SONet (Synchronous Optical Network) for lines around cities, which forces them to change network types twice before sending traffic into optical backbones, he said.

In addition, Ethernet services can be tuned to a wide variety of speeds fairly easily and deliver the kinds of connections that enterprise IT departments are familiar with.

Standards bodies are working toward specifications for both Ethernet and optical networks that would run at 100G bps, which for Ethernet would represent the next speed hop in a streak that has come all the way from Gigabit Ethernet in about a decade. Another standard in the works will cover 40G bps Ethernet. But even the standards, not expected until 2010, won't do the job by themselves.

"It's a murky, messy area," Howard said. "There are things that have to be done that don't get covered by standards."

The Road to 100G Alliance wants to tackle seven key technical problems, working closely with standards groups such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Ethernet Alliance and ITU-T (International Telecommunication Union Telecommunication Standardization Sector). On Monday, its new technical committee formed its first two working groups, covering optical interfaces and electrical interfaces.

"Ethernet will be the big driver for 100G," Howard said. Vendors going to NXTcomm, the latest iteration of a carrier-focused event that used to be called Supercomm, would probably agree.

Juniper Networks on Monday expanded its MX-series Ethernet Services Router portfolio with three new families of DPCs (dense port concentrators) that it will show off at NXTcomm. The new cards can support a wide range of Ethernet architectures for both carriers and enterprises, the company said. They include the following:

-- Tri-rate 10/100/1000M bps Ethernet DPCs for copper cable, which will let carriers deliver both low-speed and high-speed services

-- 20G bps Ethernet DPCs, a new lower-cost, lower-power option for carriers or enterprises that don't need a 40G bps module. They come in two configurations: Two 10G bps ports and 20 1G bps ports

-- Multi-rate DPCs that let carriers include both Gigabit Ethernet and 10-Gigabit Ethernet interfaces on a single card

The cards can be used alongside existing interface cards in routers across the MX series and will be priced starting at US$65,000. The Tri-rate and 20G-bps DPCs are available immediately, and the Multi-rate DPCs are expected to ship in the second half of the year.

Also at NXTcomm, Anda Networks will show off its EtherReach 10G, an addition to its EtherReach product suite for offering managed Ethernet services at speeds as high as 10G bps. The rack-mountable 1 RU device, introduced Monday, is designed for carrier Ethernet services to enterprises with high-bandwidth applications such as streaming video, content distribution or storage and backup for data-center consolidation, according to Anda.

Services on the EtherReach 10G can be tuned for speeds all the way from 1M bps to 10G bps, with quality-of-service controls for different types of traffic including VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), best-effort data and mission-critical transaction-based applications. The product is due to ship in the fourth quarter.

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