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Alcatel-Lucent Pushes 100 GbE to the Edge

The race toward 100 Gigabit Ethernet (100 GbE) continues accelerating, with networking vendor Alcatel-Lucent laying the groundwork for equipping its offerings with the technology.

100 GbE is an emerging standard for high-speed data transport that, when finalized, will be the fastest Ethernet link speed available -- and well ahead of the current fastest speed, 10 GbE.

Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU) is prepping a 100 GbE services card that will plug into its existing 7750 Service Router and 7450 Ethernet Service Switch gear to deliver service for both core and edge networking deployments. The new 100 GbE gear will be available for customer demonstrations later this year with deployment targeted for mid-2010, the company said.

Alcatel-Lucent's 100 GbE card joins Juniper Networks' 100 GbE card in the nascent, yet competitive marketplace for 100 GbE solutions. Though Juniper may have been first to actually announce a 100 GbE card, Alcatel-Lucent executives see their offering as being the first for the network edge.

"This can be used either in the core as a transport interface between routers or it can be used at the edge, delivering services to customers at 100 GbE links," Lindsay Newell, vice president of marketing at Alcatel-Lucent, told InternetNews.com. "That's the primary differences between what we're doing and what Juniper announced, which was really just a core transport interface."

Juniper did not directly respond to questions from InternetNews.com about Alcatel-Lucent's competitive claims, but pointed instead to its own track record.

"Juniper works with 100 of the top 100 service providers to design, install, and configure their networks, and we value every relationship as a true partnership," Wendy Cartee, vice president of product marketing in Juniper's infrastructure products group, said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.

Juniper announced its 100 GbE line card in June as an interface with the Juniper T1600 core router..

Alcatel-Lucent, as part of its 100 GbE strategy, is set to offer a 10 x 10 GbE line card as well as a card that presents a single 100 GbE interface. Newell explained that the underlying technology is identical across the two cards.

From a customer migration point of view, Newell explained that the 100 GbE line card will fit into a network chassis that Alcatel-Lucent has been shipping since 2003. As a result, for existing 7750 Service Routers and 7450 Ethernet Service Switches, there is no need for a forklift upgrade to benefit from 100 GbE technology.

The drive to 100 GbE

The actual IEEE standard for 100 GbE has not yet been ratified, but Newell expects that it will have occurred by the time Alcatel-Lucent's cards are generally available.

In his view, the technology side of the specification is already set.

"I think we'll start to see adoption of 100 GbE in the core and the edge in 2010 and then it will ramp up," Newell said.

"As with all new technologies, it's volumes that drive the pricing," he added. "So in 2010 we'll see early adopters and prices will probably be a little bit higher and then in 2011 as 100 GbE gets more widely deployed we'll start to see the volumes drive down pricing."

In the meantime, the networking world is scrambling to get an early lead on the competition.

At the heart of Alcatel-Lucent's 100 GbE push is its own custom silicon. The FP2 chip was first announced in March 2008 as a 100-gigabit-per-second capable chipset for the 7750 Service Router (SR) and 7450 Ethernet Service Switch.

The fact that the FP2 is a 100 gigabit-per-second-capable chipset is also a differentiator with what Juniper offers.

Juniper has confirmed that the T1600 includes two 50 gigabit-per-second-capable ASICs per slot. Last month, Luc Ceuppens, senior director of marketing for Juniper, told InternetNews.com that the approach takes flow from each individual ASIC and puts it on a single 100 GbE interface.

In contrast, Newell explained that Alcatel-Lucent's implementation uses 100 GbE throughout.

"In our implementation, it's a true 100GbE stream all the way through the forwarding complex," Newell said. "So a stream comes in at 100 GbE, it goes through a 100 GbE network processor, and it goes to the switching fabric. There is a full, true 100 GbE path through the forwarding complex -- it's not split into two 50-gigabit streams."

In response, Juniper's Cartee said her company's "long-term strategy has been to offer a full portfolio of products that concentrate not only on capacity, but on interoperability as well."

"We will continue to build on several groundbreaking core innovations, including the T1600 core router, the industry's highest-capacity, single chassis core router and the only one with 100Gbps of per-slot capacity," she added.