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New Edge Architectures Target Smaller Carriers

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Edge routers that emphasize the streamlined services of smaller carriers will debut this month at Supercomm 2004 in Chicago.

Laurel Networks Inc. has put the functionality of its ST200 broadband remote-access server (B-RAS) into a small chassis called the ST50, emphasizing DSL provisioning and "triple-play" services. Riverstone Networks Inc., meanwhile, has leveraged its traditional base in Ethernet services to offer the 15008 edge router, a 10-Gbit Ethernet system based on an Internet Protocol/multiprotocol label-switching (MPLS) control plane.

The introductions highlight a bifurcation at the network edge. Router vendors that aggregate such legacy services as frame relay, ATM and Sonet emphasize routed aggregation services in which Ethernet is but one Layer 2 choice among many. Laurel is in this camp, as are Cisco, Redback and Juniper.

But OEMs that entered carrier markets via enterprise Ethernet switching--for example, Riverstone, Foundry Networks and Extreme Networks--rank Ethernet as the most important universal service to support. While some analysts consider Ethernet-centric routers one-armed, single-protocol systems, promoters of such architectures insist that, with complex forwarding of IPv4 and IPv6 packets using MPLS flow identification, an Ethernet edge router can be as complex and as useful as its multiprotocol cousin.

Rafael Francis, director of product management at Laurel, said the impetus for moving from the 20RU midplane chassis of the ST200 to the 10RU backplane chassis of the ST50 was carriers' need for small systems suitable for co-located central offices and remote points of presence. The smaller system is less expandable in aggregate capacity--5 Gbits/second, vs. 160 Gbits/s for the 20RU chassis--but Laurel preserved the same chip sets for control plane route controllers, data plane line cards and physical-layer interfaces.

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