Start-up emerges with metro optical switch

An optical start-up is about to emerge from stealth mode with a product said to integrate optical switching and transmission at one-fifth the cost and real estate of alternatives.

The company is Edgeflow Inc., and its product is the Edgeflow Optical Add/Drop Switch (OADX) 7200. The 7200 occupies half a rack and combines wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) with cross-connect functionality.

The 7200 is said to be "transparent," in that it supports a variety of services, including SONET, Gigabit Ethernet and storage-area networking protocols, on several all-optical interfaces. These include dense WDM (DWDM) and coarse WDM (CWDM), as well as 1310 nm, 1560 nm and 850 nm.

Such transparency saves on the cost of additional SONET equipment at the edge, Edgeflow claims.

The 7200 terminates wavelengths at each hop and switches them electronically. It "retimes, reshapes and regenerates" the optical signal, Edgeflow says, which saves on the cost of additional regeneration equipment.

"They've offered a workable combination that switches wavelengths electrically, and it's bit rate- and protocol-independent," says Mark Storm, optical networking program leader at San Antonio's Frost and Sullivan. "Other switches don't have the ability to manipulate wavelengths inside the box."

The 7200 supports multiple topologies including point-to-point, point-to-multipoint, ring and mesh. In point-to-multipoint topologies, Edgeflow says its 7200 can support "bridge and roll" maintenance in which a signal is broadcast, or bridged, across a secondary path in case of failure. If the primary path fails, the connection is "rolled" over to the secondary path and signal transmission resumes. Path restoration takes between 50 milliseconds and two seconds, Edgeflow says.

The 7200 can also monitor the optical performance and characteristics of SONET and other protocols without the cost of a full SONET layer, Edgeflow claims.

In its initial release, the 7200 will be available in a 128-by-128 switching fabric that is fully redundant. Other releases of the product will include a metro edge switch supporting either 16 or 32 OC-48 lambdas, and a metro access unit supporting four or eight OC-48 lambdas.

In addition, Edgeflow plans to offer an in-service upgrade to the 7200 box that will enable it to scale up to 512 lambdas and include OC-192 and 10G bit/sec interfaces. This 512-by-512 switch will occupy just two racks, instead of the 11 required by competing systems, Edgeflow claims.

Edgeflow's management software is called Intelligent Virtual Fiber Networking (iVFN). It allows the customer to partition network resources depending on the size of a business, or for service differentiation. The iVFN software also allows for end-to-end path management of lambdas, and has open interfaces to third-party operations support systems, Edgeflow says.

Frost and Sullivan's Storm warns that Edgeflow still has to prove itself in a declining economy and in a market where no product like the OADX currently exists. He also notes that the 7200's inability to groom at the Synchronous Transport Signal (STS)-1 level may limit its appeal.

"They're really going to be competing more with the new all-optical cross-connects than with other existing systems," he says. "Those boxes for the metro can groom down to the STS-1 level."

LuxN appears to be Edgeflow's biggest competitor, with its WS 6400 optical service aggregation box. But LuxN's offering is only available in a 64-by-64 switching fabric that can scale to 128-by-128.

Other competitors in the digital cross-connect space include Fujitsu Ltd., Nortel Networks Corp. and Alcatel SA. ONI Systems Corp., ADVA AG, Astral Point Communications Inc. and Marconi Corp. PLC have similar offerings in the optical add/drop multiplexer space. TeraBurst and Sorrento Networks Corp. are competitors in the wavelength cross-connect arena.

The OADX 7200 will be in trials by year-end, with expected general availability around June 2002.

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