MSPPs Challenge Channel Extenders

Makers of channel extenders and MSPPs clash over who's best for ILECs

April 3, 2004

4 Min Read
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Tensions are building between two camps of vendors eager to cash in on a growing market for carrier-provided Sonet SAN services.

Carriers are showing more interest in offering SAN connectivity over metro Sonet networks these days, as evidenced by a rash of new telecom offerings from components to high-end transport platforms (see Galazar Puts SANs in the Frame and Sonet SANs Surging, Suppliers Say).

The trend highlights a basic clash between makers of Sonet gear and vendors that sell channel-extension devices meant to work with Sonet networks. On the one hand, those that offer Sonet multiservice provisioning platforms (MSPPs) say carriers, particularly the sought-after ILECs, don't want separate channel extension products anymore.

The MSPP argument, put forward by the likes of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Fujitsu Network Communications Inc. (FNC), Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), and other MSPP providers, is that carriers like a so-called integrated solution. They want to add a SAN services module to a platform that already meets telco requirements for management and network performance. Channel extenders, this group holds, are chiefly enterprise products.

The channel extender side, represented by vendors like Computer Network Technology Corp. (CNT) (Nasdaq: CMNT) and Akara, the company purchased by Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN) last year (see Ciena Plunks Down $45M for Akara), say MSPPs don't have the sophisticated data compression, flow control, and buffering capabilities they've perfected over years of working with enterprise customers.Neither side can completely shoot down the arguments of the other. While Cisco, FNC, and Nortel are among vendors who've announced MSPP add-ons, there are still some missing pieces compared with the fancier features native to standalone channel extenders (see Nortel Pipes SANs Into Sonet and Cisco Extends SANs Over Sonet).

While Cisco, for instance, supports Fibre Channel buffer credits in its SL series cards for its ONS 15454, it doesn't yet have data compression. FNC, which already has a foothold in SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) (see FNC Lands Big Verizon Gig), is still a couple of quarters away from shipping a card that will bring Fibre Channel, Ficon, and Ethernet to its Flashwave 4000 series MSPPs; and the vendor has stated that advanced features like data compression will follow initial release.

Channel extender vendors admit they're still enterprise-oriented. Despite the fact that many channel extenders, including Akara's, have long supported Sonet connectivity via Generic Framing Procedure (GFP) and other methods, carriers see them as CPE. "The majority of carriers still see SAN extension as an enteprise function," says Matthew Williams, senior product marketing manager for storage and enterprise at what used to be Akara and is now Ciena. "The trust isn't there yet."

One thing both MSPP and channel extender vendors agree on: Demand for Sonet SAN gear among carriers is on the rise. "Yes, it's small now, but we definitely see it growing," says Patty Barkley, product marketing director at CNT. She says AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T), Qwest Communications International Inc. (NYSE: Q), and Verizon are present customers, offering CNT gear with both regulated and unregulated services.

"RBOCs, ILECs, IXCs, storage service providers, and a number of other smaller carriers and CLECs are coming out of the woodwork," says Sam Lisle, director of market development at FNC. He says the low end of the market, served by smaller MSPPs that support services to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs}, is especially promising. This SMB group is likely to pick up on metro services, including Fibre Channel and Ethernet ones for data replication, rather than building storage networks from scratch.Lisle sees hope for greater diversity in the kinds of storage-related services emerging for SMBs. Companies with fewer than 1,000 employees, for instance, might opt to have their carrier host a second data center, rather than build one. "Very high-end users will do WDM over dark fiber," he says. But he sees the rest of the world being keenly interested in a range of Sonet SAN services.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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