Alcatel-Lucent rolls 400G edge router network processor, then core?

Alcatel-Lucent’s FP3 400G network processor upped the edge router competition in terms of speed, but its service-level technology capabilities for network operators are unclear.

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Alcatel-Lucent upped the ante in the edge router network wars in a big way on Tuesday when it announced its FP3 network processor, a third-generation chipset with the potential to handle 400 gigabits per second (Gbps) transmission speeds—even as the industry is deploying 10G and looking toward 100G capabilities. The FP3 will be included in a new series of line cards for its Alcatel-Lucent’s 7750 Service Router available in 2012.

They left some things open to the imagination in terms of the roadmap.

Ray Mota, Managing Partner, ACG Research

Beyond speed, Alcatel-Lucent said the FP3, a silicon chip set that was built in-house, has built-in, service-aware technology that will give operators building blocks to more easily enable next-generation services that include cloud and enterprise applications, video and collaboration. While service enablement is of high interest to network operators, the lack of specifics leaves these operators without a clear roadmap of how the chipset will ultimately help them increase revenue.

Still, three heavy-hitter network operators—Verizon, BT and NTT—went on record to welcome the FP3 network processor because of its potential 400G speed and green qualities that promise to reduce power use by up to 50% and take up to 30% less physical space.

Operator statements referred to service-aware technology in general terms as well. Karl Penaluna, BT president of global networks and computing infrastructure, said that “as cloud-based services emerge and rich multimedia services proliferate, this type of technology can help us provide the best quality of service at even higher speeds.” While approving of Alcatel-Lucent’s announcement, NTT’s Masato Minamisawa, vice president of IP technology in the business network services division, added that he looked forward to the new functions that would come with the network processor, but didn’t elaborate on what those were.

FP3 network processor said to include service-aware technology

Alcatel-Lucent’s Heidi Adams, senior director of IP product marketing, said that beyond the traffic growth the FP3 clearly addresses, the challenge is to ensure that networks can create value using service-aware technology that brings capabilities like advanced service management, advanced hierarchical queuing, and processing and prioritizing the applications that are running on the network. No specific service-layer functionality was announced at this time, however.

“There is no question that Alcatel-Lucent has made a significant advance in router semi-conducting performance, but it’s a lost opportunity to talk about service-layer functionality when they were very specific about higher speeds in the future,” said CIMI Corp. President Tom Nolle.

“There are only two reasons to have bigger processors on cards—one is to push more bits and the other is to do more with the bits you’re pushing. No vendor has clearer positioning in the service layer than Alcatel-Lucent, but they blew kisses at the notion of service functionality and didn’t close the deal,” Nolle added.

FP3 silicon to be repurposed for a core router?

Initially, the high-performance processors will go into edge router line cards because network bottlenecks are most prevalent due to multimedia traffic growth, according to Heidi Adams, senior director of IP product marketing at Alcatel-Lucent. Alcatel-Lucent doesn’t have a core router product, but industry analysts are watching to see if the FP3 indicates a push into core routing.

According to recent Dell’Oro Group research, Cisco’s share of the edge router market dropped to 42% in 2010 from 57% in 2006, while Alcatel-Lucent and Juniper basically tied for second place with 22 % and 20 %of the edge market, respectively.

While Alcatel-Lucent has established credibility in the edge network, “it would have been logical to say, ‘here’s the chassis for the core,’” said ACG Managing Partner Ray Mota. “If it’s all about speeds and feeds, they kind of pushed the competition to accelerate their R&D. But they left some things open to the imagination in terms of the roadmap, and carriers like to have an idea of how the whole solution fits together.”

Shin Umeda, vice president of router market research at Dell’Oro, believes Alcatel-Lucent is initially positioning the chipset as an extension of its edge routing technology,  but it may try to repurpose the edge router chipset to function in the core, as well.

“If it works, it would save some R&D money and help Alcatel-Lucent enter the core router market, where the barrier to entry is extremely high and takes several hundred million dollars in development over several years to even build the silicon for the router, let alone develop the software,” Umeda said.

Since 400G eclipses current core router performance, Alcatel-Lucent’s Adams said the FP3 is the fundamental technology that will enable the company to take the next step in 400G routing once the technology is standardized, a path slated for the 2014-2015 time frame.

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