Hammerhead prays to no one

Switch vendor discusses its MPLS/VPLS/PBT agnosticism

Responding to a recent report on the market prospects of an MPLS alternative for metro Ethernet, edge switch market Hammerhead Systems this week reiterated a soul-baring confession.

It is not religious.

Hammerhead took issue with Cisco's claims at a conference last week that its implementation of Provider Backbone Transport (PBT) alongside MPLS in its edge switch is complicated. PBT is being pitched by proponents as an alternative to MPLS and Virtual Private LAN Services (VPLS) as a simpler, less expensive alternative for certain metro Ethernet applications.

"We think this is the opposite of complicated," says Rob Kiel, cofounder and vice president of marketing and business development at Hammerhead. "It's very easy. What's interesting about the approach we've taken is, we don't really have a position around PBT per se. We're agnostic, we're not in a religious position one way or another here."

Following a Hammerhead presentation at last week's Future-Net conference in New York on the interworking of PBT and MPLS/VPLS in a Hammerhead switch, a Cisco engineer questioned the presenter on how the company's implementation mitigated complexity. The Cisco engineer, Monique Morrow, offered to discuss the matter off-line with the Hammerhead presenter but such a discussion never took place, according to Hammerhead.

"She did not appear to be interested in discussing the complexity at all," said the Hammerhead presenter, Norival Figueira, a systems architect at the company. "She was just trying to make her point that PBT is complex."

"That's FUD and that's trying to obfuscate the issue," adds Hammerhead's Kiel on Morrow's reaction to the presentation (Kiel was not at the conference). "The reality is, as an MPLS switch we have less functionality than their routers so how could we be more complex? What we're doing in this case is adding a simple software feature to allow PBT to be interworked into MPLS. It's very possible that for Cisco or Juniper, it's complex for them to do it."

Hammerhead claims the carriers it is engaged with agree that the company's PBT/MPLS/VPLS implementation is not complicated. But as is usual with Hammerhead, the company said it could not provide the names of any reference carriers.

"We're not in a position, unfortunately, to comment publicly about customers we're working with or even talking to," Kiel says. "Many are not yet public (with their PBT plans) because they don't want to tip their hands for their own competitive reasons."

So while interworking PBT with MPLS may be easier than getting Hammerhead to disclose its customers or prospects, so to is pinpointing the company's non-religious technological leanings.

"MPLS is our bread and butter," Kiel says. "We're an MPLS switch, we're being deployed for MPLS and VPLS. By definition, that's what we do. That's what we're being deployed for.

"But what we're also not taking is a religious position against PBT," Kiel continues. "We're agnostic. What we're responding to is customers who have made their own decisions for their own reasons about the merits of deploying PBT. Once they've chosen to go down that path or are interested in pursuing that path, we believe it was valuable and in response to what they're doing to offer them a simple software feature that allows PBT to be interworked into MPLS."

Kiel also takes issue with competitors who view Hammerhead's PBT service gateway application as requiring the addition of yet another switch into the PBT/MPLS network.

"The way our system is designed, this is a simple software feature," Kiel says. "This is not another box. We are already a box in the network so it's not about being another box. That's just competitors throwing FUD on this because they themselves are not in favor of this technology for their own religious reasons."


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