Startup first with 'legacy MPLS' services

  • Jim Duffy (Computerworld)
  • 23 January, 2002 08:30

Edge router startup Laurel Networks Inc. this week unveiled a management system for provisioning IP and Multi-protocol Label Switching-based services in networks employing the company's equipment.

The Laurel Provisioning System (LPS) is software that runs on any high-performance server computing platform. It enables network operators to configure Laurel's ST200 router, define services to be transported through MPLS tunnels, and then provision these services via point-and-click commands.

Laurel claims LPS is one of the first in the industry to enable the provisioning of Layer 2 services - such as ATM, frame relay, and Ethernet private line - through an MPLS-enabled IP backbone. This is key, because while the core of service provider networks and revenue generating services are expected to be IP/MPLS-based over time, providers still make their money from ATM and frame relay.

"It's a repurposing of the Layer 3 network to deliver Layer 2 services that providers are comfortable with, and there's high margin in," says Dave Passmore, research director at The Burton Group Corp. in Herndon, Va. "IXCs are looking to eliminate overlay networks but they need to continue to deliver profitable services at the edge."

A service provider, such as AT&T, that uses a Layer 2 frame relay or ATM infrastructure to provision MPLS-based IP services such as VPNs would not be a target for LPS, however. This is because the product is designed for Layer 3 IP backbones, not Layer 2 ATM or frame backbones said to be "IP/MPLS-enabled."

LPS includes client and server components. The Java-based server software runs on Windows 2000, Linux and Sun Solaris 8 platforms, and has three components: the LPS Server, Database Server and Accounting Server.

The LPS Server provides event handling, network discovery and provisioning. The Database Server stores device model, configuration and security information, and historical alarms.

The Accounting Server gathers processes and stores statistical information required to generate accounting, billing and service level agreement management information. SLA data such as resource utilization, reliability, latency and loss are stored there.

The client graphical user interface is a Java-based GUI from which the service provider configures and manages the ST200 routers, and defines and provisions services. This GUI provides three views of the ST200 environment: an explorer view, that shows an icon tree of ST200 domains or customers; a topological view of the network; and an alarm view that shows the status of the ST200 network in color codes, and keeps audit and error logs.

The service providers' enterprise customer has Web client access into the service network to monitor activity and performance against service level agreements, and request upgrades or downgrades.

LPS also features a command line interface for configuring the ST200 routers. Configuration changes made in the CLI are immediately updated in the Java GUI to provide an accurate depiction of the network.

Depending on the server hardware platform on which it runs, a single LPS can support about 100 ST200 routers, says Steve Vogelsang, vice president and co-founder of Laurel. The server communicates with the routers via a CORBA API, which supports large transactions for configuring, or provisioning services on, multiple ST200 routers, Vogelsang says.

The software also supports clustering, which enables it to scale and provide redundancy, Vogelsang says. Multiple copies can run in synch on multiple servers for management of larger networks and for backup in case of failures.

For operation support system integration, LPS features Java and XML APIs, in addition to CORBA. It also supports SNMP as the interface to third-party element management systems, but does not use SNMP to manage the ST200 environment.

Passmore says he believes Laurel's LPS gives it a competitive advantage over edge router companies such as Cisco Systems Inc., Juniper Networks Inc. and Unisphere Networks Inc. - for now. That edge will be short-lived, however, and it may not be enough to sway carriers away from the more established vendors.

"It's a temporary advantage for Laurel; we'll see the Ciscos and Junipers catch up," Passmore says. "But Laurel is the first to offer ease of provisioning of Layer 2 services over MPLS."

LPS is available now, as is Laurel's ST200 router. Laurel would not disclose pricing for LPS, nor customers for that and the ST200.