Extreme to put MPLS in Ethernet MANs

Extreme Networks Inc. this week will roll out a module that adds Multi-protocol Label Switching to its BlackDiamond Ethernet MAN switch.

Extreme will debut the blade at the NetWorld+Interop 2001 show in Las Vegas, and will target it at metropolitan-area service providers looking to provision Ethernet MAN and WAN services based on MPLS, such as managed VPN and transparent LAN services.

The blade could also be used in large firms that want to tie together BlackDiamonds located at remote sites with MPLS tunnels over the Internet.

MPLS engineers traffic by "labeling" IP flows and then letting switches and routers steer those flows through the network by swapping labels. These "label switched paths" can be used to deliver quality-of-service (QoS) guarantees, define and enforce service-level agreements, and establish private user groups for VPNs.

"MPLS has a labeling and class of service scheme that maps nicely with Ethernet," says Sam Halabi, vice president of IP carrier marketing for Extreme. This could let providers of Ethernet-based MAN services quickly adopt MPLS as a way to offer new VPN and virtual leased line services, he adds.

Extreme's MPLS blade is based on Draft-Martini, an IETF working document that outlines how to transport Layer 2 traffic across MPLS networks. Extreme says the module can support virtual LAN tagging across wide-area links to provide transparent LAN services between remote corporate sites. The blade can also map SONET services to MPLS frames for sending traffic over mixed time-division multiplexed and Ethernet fiber networks, the company says.

The MPLS functions in the module are based on network processors, which can be reprogrammed after the module is installed, Halabi says. This is important because MPLS is not completely standardized, and changes to the technology could evolve. If MPLS upgrades are needed, they can be done with a software upgrade, Halabi adds, instead of replacing the entire module, which would be required with a MPLS module based on ASICs.

While Extreme his marketing the blade heavily towards MAN providers, one analyst says enterprise users could also take advantage of the product.

"This product could go both ways," in terms of MAN or enterprise deployment, says William Hurley, a program manager for The Yankee Group. "It can be used by companies in the MAN space for delivering services, or by enterprises looking to leverage truly seamless IP VPNs as part of their own infrastructure."

In addition to helping Extreme users, Hurley says the blade could give Extreme a boost in the MAN equipment market.

It's already boosted the company's appeal with one particular user.

"This [module] also keeps Extreme kind of in the same ballpark with some of its competitors that have been doing MPLS for a while," including Cisco, Riverstone and Foundry Networks, Hurley adds.

"I have a couple of issues I could address with that [MPLS module] immediately," says Tony Crognale, network technician with Scottsdale Insurance in Scottsdale, Ariz. Crognale says he wants to use MPLS to connect his remote offices with secure network access, and to regulate QoS to his remote sites.

"We have some smaller interspersed offices of Scottsdale Insurance located throughout the [area]," he says. "We'd like to give them the same access for some of our applications" as users in the main office have, such as the firm's digital archive of insurance claim documents.

Crognale, who has 20 Extreme BlackDiamonds at Scottsdale's headquarters, plans to replace Cisco routers at his remote sites with BlackDiamonds fitted with the MPLS blades and with DS-3 WAN connections.

Extreme's MPLS module will ship in June. The company did not disclose pricing.

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