Frame relay NNIs in the cross-fire

By David Rohde, Network World |  Networking

Big carriers tend to justify the telecommunications merger frenzy by saying users want to get all types of services bundled together into a single package from one player. But many users actually prefer to get different kinds of services from different carriers.

And then there are the users who even want to -- or have to -- get the same service from two carriers.

That's the situation that led to the development of a specialized form of networking called Frame Relay Network-to-Network Interfaces (NNI). One of the earliest frame relay standards,NNI has long been used by local exchange carriers and regional carriers.

Those carriers tend to sell frame relay service to users with many locations in a concentrated geographic area. But the carriers need to find another carrier to connect sites outside their territories - or, in the case of Bell companies, across any two local access and transport areas (LATA).

The challenge has always been to find a long-distance carrier that will agree to hook up its frame relay net to the local carrier's net. Now that challenge may be getting harder than ever because in the past year AT&T and MCI WorldCom have introduced their own intra-LATAframe relay services. Having their own intra-LATA frame relay services means AT&T and MCI WorldCom can provide multiple local frame relay connections in a single metropolitan area on the same switch platforms as their national frame services.

Should you consider a frame relay NNI? The answer is hotly debated among vendors and analysts, who alternately praise recent improvements in NNI procedures and practices or criticize NNIs as a bottleneck strewn with network-management headaches.

Some carriers want it all

These days, if you go to your long-distance carrier - especially AT&T - and ask if it will set up a frame relay NNI with your local carrier, expect to get pitched on moving all your frame relay business to the long-distance carrier.

AT&T is even reluctant to consider an NNI if you are involved in a merger with another company that uses a different carrier. Carrier officials say they would rather take their chances on winning or losing your entire business. "When corporations merge together, unless they deliberately choose a multiple-vendor situation, one carrier usually ends up dominant," says Keith Falter, AT&T's national marketing manager for high-speed services.

Temporarily, AT&T will assist users to put two separate routers on each site - one for each carrier's frame relay network - each attached to the LAN. But that's not a frame relay NNI because the two WANs never meet.

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