Juniper merges network core elements to cut carrier costs

Its PTX switches, coming next year, combine optical and packet switching

By , IDG News Service |  Networking, Juniper Networks, networking hardware

Juniper Networks is developing a massive switch that could replace traditional IP (Internet Protocol) routers in the core of service-provider networks and combine optical and electronic technologies that today exist in separate systems with dedicated staffs.

The PTX Series Packet Transport Switch platform, of which the first products will ship in the first quarter of next year, will combine two technologies that carriers use to bypass routing at the center of their networks. Routing involves the processor-intensive work of examining every packet, and it often isn't necessary for traffic that is just traversing the core of the network. Instead, carriers use MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) and optical switching, neither of which requires full routing intelligence, to move traffic through the core.

The PTX platform combines these approaches in the same box and is not designed as a router at all. Juniper wants to relegate routers to the edges of the network and devote the PTX chassis to switching. This will allow the company to focus the processing power of the new system on the tasks required of the core, Juniper said.

Carriers are under pressure to boost their network capacity to handle fast-growing traffic loads. They want to do so economically, because they continue to bring in about the same amount of revenue from their subscribers even as third-party service and content providers deliver more bandwidth-hungry offerings such as video, analysts said. By optimizing the PTX for switching instead of routing, and integrating optical technology into the same chassis, Juniper may cut carriers' costs while bolstering their network capacity, they said.

For enterprises and consumers who buy services from carriers, this might mean a slower rise in their monthly bills or better services for the same rates.

"Because of some of this cost being reduced ... you would hope that this kind of reduces the cost per bit and therefore is passed down to the IT guys," said analyst Ray Mota of ACG Research.

Adding optical switching to a packet switch brings Juniper into a totally new market and could dramatically change carriers' network operations over time. Today, carriers feed packets from their core routers into a separate optical infrastructure, which places the traffic on separate wavelengths of light for fast transmission. The traffic needs to be converted from the electronic to the optical realm, and then back again on the other end of the network. Putting both in the same chassis simplifies the network and removes those costly conversions, while also making it easier to scale up the infrastructure, Juniper said.

The company claims the PTX platform can cut network capital expenditures by between 40% and 65% compared with a traditional multiprotocol routing architecture and by 35% compared with an IP-only routing system.

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