Riverstone unveils its core MAN switch

By Phil Hochmuth, Network World |  Networking

SANTA CLARA

-- Riverstone Networks this week will debut a flagship switch for the core of metropolitan-area networks that integrates features needed for business-class IP services.

The key to the Riverstone RS 38000 for carrier-based MANs is the use of Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS) to create virtual Ethernet domains across multiple customer locations. The switch also enables virtual leased lines and packet-over-SONET transport, according to the company.

The device includes a high concentration of Gigabit Ethernet ports, as well as optical uplinks and traditional WAN interfaces, including T-1 and ATM. It has 30% more backplane capacity than the RS 32000, Riverstone's current top-line MAN switch.

In addition to hardware-based MPLS for providing quality of service (QoS) throughout the MAN, Riverstone is also crowing about Resilient Packet Ring (RPR) technology, which optimizes Ethernet to run over a SONET infrastructure.

MPLS, which is used mostly to differentiate traffic flows in the Internet core, could let service providers extend the technology to the front door of customer networks. The technology could be used to group buildings that are miles apart into distinct VPN domains. It could also let carriers split up bandwidth on a granular, per-customer basis, providing inexpensive leased-line replacements for businesses with expanded bandwidth options.

ASICs in the switch perform the label switching, as opposed to software and network processors, which provide for faster throughput of differentiated services, the company claims.

Some analysts look favorably on the new technology, saying it could prove to be a major differentiator for Riverstone in the MAN market.

"I think the feature that sets [Riverstone] apart is their proposal to use MPLS in the metro network to provide secure business-grade services," says Michael Kennedy, a vice president with Network Strategy Partners. "If you look at service providers now, the best that most of them offer are gold, silver and bronze [service levels] in terms of QoS guarantees on the backbone." He adds that moving MPLS closer to users "would go a long way toward offering a grade of IP that businesses expect."

Kevin Mitchell, an analyst with Strategic Network Partners, is more skeptical of the RS 38000's hardware-based MPLS. While interesting in theory, he says, putting MPLS in an ASIC could cause problems for service providers.

"Having MPLS in hardware could be a weakness" when upgrades to the MPLS standard are developed, he says. Riverstone would have to upgrade its hardware in such a case, "and that's an expensive upgrade path for [service provider] customers."

Riverstone says RPR technology will be a boon to service providers by combining the simplicity of Ethernet with the resiliency of SONET.

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