Nortel launches into optical Ethernet

Nortel Networks Corp. at NetWorld+Interop 2001 on Wednesday launched a three-pronged assault on the optical Ethernet market by unveiling enhancements to its Passport 8600 packet routing switch.

Nortel internally has a focused initiative on optical Ethernet and a dedicated team of executives charged with executing the company's strategy. Nortel has high expectations for optical Ethernet and its own success in the market.

"A year from now, optical Ethernet will be the talk; it will be a new type of circuit that acts as a virtual private Ethernet," says Steve Schilling, recently named president of Nortel's Optical Ethernet Group. "We think it's the next big thing."

With that, Nortel unveiled a 10G bit/sec Ethernet blade for the Passport 8600. The module is intended to function in LAN, metropolitan-area network and WAN environments as a high-speed data center server attachment and as a 10-gigabit channel into Nortel's OPTera Metro and OPTera long-haul optical switching and transport systems.

In the WAN, the blade will use a "SONET-friendly" WAN PHY to tunnel Ethernet packets through a SONET infrastructure. Many believe this WAN PHY will obliterate many of Ethernet's cost advantages over SONET, but Nortel officials say the cost will be made up in network management and operational efficiencies.

The 10G bit/sec Ethernet module will go into controlled release in the fourth quarter, with general availability in early 2002. Nortel will disclose pricing at a later date this year, company officials say.

The second enhancement is a "carrier-grade" version of the 8600. This NEBS-compliant switch will be targeted at metro optical Ethernet service providers, and will house single- and dual-port 10G bit/sec Ethernet interface modules. It will also have an option that enables service providers to upgrade the switching capacity from 128G bit/sec to 512G bit/sec, Nortel officials say.

This carrier-grade switch will be available early next year with an entry cost similar to the enterprise version of the 8600.

The third enhancement is a software feature for the 8600 called Spilt MLT. This feature, based on the IEEE 802.1ab standard for multilink trunking, allows service providers to configure redundant paths to an enterprise or multitenant building without routing protocols like Open Shortest Path First or Routing Information Protocol. It's designed to lower the cost and ease the management of configuring and operating multilink trunks.

Split MLT will be available as part of a new Passport 8600 software release in the third quarter.

As far as other enhancements, such as low channel coarse or dense wave division multiplexing modules for the Passport 8600, Nortel officials say they have a "strong focus" in those areas but declined further comment on the probability of those additions emerging for the switch.

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