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Managing Editor

Incumbents get edgy

Mar 02, 20044 mins

* Lucent, Nortel finally address next-generation multi-service edge

After ceding the market to start-ups for the past few years, Lucent and Nortel are about to re-engage themselves with the multi-service edge.

Lucent is developing a successor to its ancient CBX frame and ATM switches that the vendor hopes will dissuade carrier customers from ripping out their older CBX switches in favor of newer generation offerings from start-ups or acquired start-ups, according to sources. Nortel is developing a multiservice edge under the codename “Neptune” that will meld features of its Passport frame and ATM switches with IP capabilities from its Shasta edge service platform.

Given the heritage of both companies, the new platforms will initially focus more on legacy Layer 2 frame relay and ATM-to-IP/MPLS migration and RFC 2547 Layer 3 MPLS VPN capabilities vs. more edge router functionality such as broadband remote aggregation server, IP service and subscriber management, or IPSec VPN tunneling capabilities, sources say. But the new systems will be hybrid in nature so they can play in a router/switch market that Infonetics Research expects to grow at a 16% compounded annual rate, from $4.8 billion in 2003 to $8.6 billion in 2007.

Lucent is said to be developing the CBX 3500, a 35G bit/sec successor to its eight-year-old, 5G bit/sec CBX 500. With a fivefold increase in switching capacity, the CBX 3500 is also expected to significantly increase port and virtual circuit density over the CBX 500. WaveSmith, the multiservice edge switch start-up acquired by Ciena last year, claimed support for 128,000 VCs per forwarding blade in its five-slot, 30G bit/sec DN4100 switches.

The CBX 3500 is also expected to feature the MPLS support Lucent’s been long promising for the CBX switch, which will position it as a frame relay/ATM-to-IP/MPLS edge migration platform, sources say.

Some analysts are incredulous that Lucent would be investing in product development when they’ve been shedding products over the past year or two in an effort to cut costs and attain profitability. Lucent killed two separate ATM and MPLS core switch efforts. Lucent is believed to have also killed a multi-service edge project around the time it allied with Juniper Networks for frame/ATM-to-MPLS development.

That “WaveSmith killer” project combined the CBX with Lucent’s Springtide IP services switch. Juniper, with its Unisphere BRAS routers, may have taken exception to the Springtide element of “WaveSmith killer.”

But Lucent’s CBX customers are clamoring for greater port and frame/ATM VC density. Hence, the CBX 3500.

Analysts believe Lucent has to play in the multi-service edge game but with a newer product obtained via partnership or acquisition. Some have speculated that Lucent may be sizing up switch maker Hammerhead Systems for such a union.

But other sources say the CBX 3500 is being developed internally and they expect it to be announced close to the Supercomm 2004 conference in June.

Nortel’s “Neptune” will also be developed internally as opposed to being acquired or obtained through partnership, said Sue Spradley, president of Wireline Networks at Nortel. She said Nortel has the expertise in house to do it through its existing Passport and Shasta offerings.

“We’re working on a solution,” Spradley said at Nortel’s recent analyst conference in Boston. “We don’t need to acquire.” She declined to go into further detail on the company’s product plans.

But sources say “Neptune” will not just be modules for an existing Passport or Shasta chassis; it will be a “start from scratch” platform, though it will look more like a Passport frame/ATM switch than a Shasta IP services switch. That means it will initially address the frame/ATM/Ethernet-to-MPLS migration application as well as RFC 2547 MPLS IP VPNs rather than BRAS or IP subscriber services.

That does not rule out eventual BRAS and IP subscriber services roles for “Neptune,” however.

“Neptune” is expected to debut later this year.

Managing Editor

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 28 years, 23 at Network World. He covers enterprise networking infrastructure, including routers and switches. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on Twitter @Jim_Duffy and at

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