Latest network equipment standard debuts

Intel has unveiled a modular, standardised network equipment specification aimed at halping suppliers of carrier gear save time...

Intel has unveiled a modular, standardised network equipment specification aimed at halping suppliers of carrier gear save time and cut cost at this week's Supercomm trade show in Chicago.

Several suppliers were selling, demonstrating or announcing platforms built on ATCA (Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture), which is based on Intel-architecture processors and is intended to let makers of routers, switches and other network systems mix and match components from many suppliers.

An industry created around the architecture should free system makers from having to develop every element of their products so they can concentrate on adding innovative capabilities and getting products to market quickly.

About 50 suppliers demonstrated ATCA-based equipment at this year's show, up from just a handful at Supercomm last year, according to Tom Franz, vice-president and general manager of Intel's Communications Infrastructure Group.

The consortium that developed ATCA, the PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group (PICMG), hosted a booth at the show with demonstrations by 28 suppliers.

"What we're really seeing is a real movement from development to deployment," he said. In addition, carriers are beginning to adopt systems based on the architecture.

Korea Telecom announced with Intel that it is testing new services based on gear built from off-the-shelf ATCA components. The carrier, along with a local system integrator, built ATCA platforms for the services based on an Intel chassis and Intel processors.

The services include multimedia caller ID and ring-back as well as videoconferencing.

China's Huawei Technologies, a major telecommunications equipment maker, announced it is embracing ATCA and carrier-grade Linux for its next-generation gear.

The main benefit of ATCA will be faster time to market, said Edward Lin, a vice-president at Huawei. To keep up with carriers' demands, the company has to support new kinds of services on its platforms roughly every month, Lin said.

Huawei already builds systems on the CompactPCI architecture. More standard boards and software are available for ATCA, which should give Huawei more flexibility. In addition, ATCA boards are larger than CompactPCI boards, so they can support greater port densities.

ATCA-based gear is rolling out into the market about as expected, according to Jag Bolaria, an analyst at The Linley Group. The biggest suppliers, such as Lucent Technologies are likely to join as their existing products come up for renewal.

The main benefit of the standard architecture is lower cost of development from taking chassis dimensions, power supply specifications and other details from ATCA instead of working them out in-house, he said. In high-end systems, cost is less an issue, he added.

Specifications such as case dimensions are covered by the basic standard, ATCA 3.0. Further standards define other details such as various choices of internal communications protocols including ASI (Advanced Switching Interconnect) and RapidIO.

Telco Systems announced the commercial availability of its T6Pro, which it called the first ATCA-based carrier-class routing switch on the market. The T6Pro is designed as a metropolitan core and distribution switch for data, voice and video traffic and can be equipped with as many as 288 Gigabit Ethernet or 24 10-Gigabit Ethernet ports.

Teradiant Networks demonstrated traffic manager chips it is offering to network equipment makers. The chips are expected to ship in volume in the first quarter of next year. Through a partnership with Sanmina-SCI, Teradiant plans to provide full design, prototyping and manufacturing of ATCA-based platforms for equipment vendors. Those system suppliers can differentiate their products through software developed on top of a Teradiant API (application programming interface).

Force Computers, a unit of Solectron, has introduced its first devices which are ready for deployment in carrier central offices, according to Roland Chochoiek, corporate director of marketing at the maker of embedded computing products.

The company so far has been making development systems that name-brand equipment makers could use to create new devices. At the show, Force showed off systems that comply with the NEBS (Network Equipment Building Systems) standard that defines the requirements for central-office gear. Force also announced that Italtel, an Italian supplier and integrator of multiservice carrier networks, will base a new generation of equipment on an ATCA modular communications platform from Force.

Stephen Lawson writes for IDG News Service

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