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Nortel takes shot at Cisco, Lucent claims breakthrough

Nortel Networks Corp. today fired a broadside at rival Cisco Systems Inc.
Written by Paula Musich, Contributor and  John Rendleman, Contributor

Nortel Networks Corp. today fired a broadside at rival Cisco Systems Inc. as it launched an initiative to proliferate its rearchitected router code across a new generation of edge networking devices.

The Brampton, Ontario, company's Open IP Environment software initiative is intended to enable routing in a new generation of devices -- including appliances, servers and processors -- that can deliver more scalable and less expensive internetworking.

Intel Corp. was on hand to pledge support for the high-performance routing software, promising to use portions of it in its new Internet Exchange Architecture, which is designed to support development of software-programmable networking devices. Intel and Microsoft Corp. are among some 75 different vendors that are licensing the routing software from Nortel. Microsoft is using the software in its embedded Windows NT operating system and intends to incorporate it in its Windows 2000 code.

The third leg of Nortel's strategy to take on Cisco's dominant proprietary routing technology is to drop pricing on its access routers by up to 50 percent.

Harsh words for Cisco

"The average cost of routing has been increasing 5 percent a year. That's not reflective of the pricing curves of the PC industry around hardware platforms," said Bill Conner, president of Nortel's Enterprise Solution unit. "The increase is attributed to the proprietary nature and limited distribution of high-performance IP software to the industry."

In taking another swipe at Cisco's proprietary IOS routing software, Nortel Chief Technology Officer Albert DeLorenzi said the existing model of selling routers as a complete bundled system "has constrained innovation and will hold back the Internet in the future."

The aim of Nortel's initiative, he said, is to foster greater innovation by decoupling the development of software from network interfaces and to accelerate the performance (while lowering the cost) of network processors. Specifically, Nortel hopes to encourage greater innovation in the areas of policy, accounting, management and security applications.

Open IP software runs on a variety of operating systems, including Sun Solaris and Linux, as well as a variety of systems prevalent in the communications industry, DeLorenzi said.

The software implements industry-standard Open Shortest Path First routing protocols, and it provides open interfaces to allow a variety of device vendors to implement the software on different device types, from Palmtop devices and Internet access appliances to multiservice edge switches. To make it scale, Nortel developed a new method for allowing different routing devices to exchange messages about the status of various connections. Nortel has patented that technology, DeLorenzi said.

Nortel intends to embed the Open IP software in its Contivity edge switch, new voice telephony products, PassPort switches and its new Shasta service-based platform.

Battling Cisco's proprietary routing software, Interior Gateway Routing Protocol, will be an uphill battle. Nortel officials claimed that it is used in about half of all enterprise networks. "How we propose to move it is to use new economics and higher performance," said Conner. "Why pay twice the price?"

Open IP is targeted at edge networking devices, and its model assumes an Internet core based on high-performance optical networking technology that works with IP. Earlier this year, Nortel introduced its own offering for that space, but it will have to compete with its other big rival, Lucent Technologies Inc.

Lucent's microscopic mirrors

For its part, Lucent today unveiled its all-optical WaveStar Lambda Router as a complement to its existing optical networking products, including the NX64000 packet router, the WaveStar OLS 400G DWDM (dense wave division multiplexing) products and the GX 550 core multiservice core ATM switch.

The WaveStar Lambda Router will be available to select customers in July 2000, with commercial availability scheduled for December 2000, said Lucent officials in Murray Hill, N.J. It will offer total switching capacity of 10T bps, the officials said.

The router, intended for packet-based core optical networks, is built on the MicroStar technology developed by Lucent's Bell Laboratories. It employs hundreds of microscopic mirrors to route traffic as much as 16 times faster than electrical systems, the officials said.

The technology packs 256 micro-mechanical mirrors onto a piece of silicon measuring less than 1 square inch. The routing devices are capable of receiving optical wavelengths and redirecting them to any of the input or output mirrors used in the system, said officials.

Lucent did not disclose prices for the WaveStar Lambda Router, although officials said it will reduce carriers' operational costs by 25 percent by performing switching tasks previously performed in the SONET layer.

Nortel can be reached at www.nortelnetworks.com. Lucent is at www.lucent.com.

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