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July - 2013 - issue > View Point
Engineering for Evolution and Change
Rad Pathalam
Vice President of Systems & Technology-Sycamore Networks Solutions, Inc.
Monday, July 1, 2013
Sycamore Networks Solutions Inc., (NASDAQ:SCMR) is a provider of intelligent optical networking and multiservice access solutions designed to empower more agile, efficient, and scalable communications networks. Headquartered in Chelmsford, the company has a market cap of $11.84 million.

Partnering for Network Evolution

Managing engineering initiatives in a time of dynamic change in customer environments comes with a variety of challenges. Our service provider customers, for example, face a deluge of new traffic demands driven by the explosion of media-rich consumer application and the shift to cloud-based services by commercial enterprises. These service providers need to adapt to the increased volume and unpredictability of network traffic, which requires new technologies and networking tools. At the same time, they need to ensure they can effectively evolve their networks in a way that does not impact existing revenue streams, many of which are delivered using networking platforms and operational systems based on older technologies. An underlying principal of product development strategies must be to form a strategic partnership with customers as their requirements evolve, and to be disciplined in engineering development and production processes to be able to meet those requirements quickly and cost-effectively.

A Metro Network Perspective

In Sycamore’s business environment, metro networks represent a good example of the evolution of customer requirements. Most metro networks still rely on SONET/SDH-based technologies to support legacy Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) traffic and services. TDM technology was originally developed with voice services in mind, and provides the underlying foundation for connection-oriented communications with the reliability we are all familiar with 911 services. However, conventional voice and TDM services make up only a small fraction of the traffic on today’s networks. SONET/SDH network elements are relatively expensive, compared to Ethernet and IP networking equipment. Over the last decade, enterprise data networking, broadband access, mobile data, and digital video have resulted in steady and rapid increases in requirements for data capacity in carriers’ networks. The network layer for most of this traffic is Internet protocol. However, the de-facto link layer standard, and preferred physical interface in most cases, is Ethernet. Thus, metro networks are now dominated by Ethernet traffic and services, with connections to access equipment and customers provided by Ethernet interfaces. For many metro service providers, the evolution to Ethernet-based services is an ongoing challenge, one that requires the protocols and paradigms that allow Ethernet to be scalable, manageable, and reliable for the deployment of carrier-grade services.

Leveraging Packet and Optical Networking Expertise

From an organizational perspective, it is critical to build expertise across multiple technologies, particularly given today’s rapidly evolving networking environment. From very early on Sycamore’s philosophy was to design systems that combine the raw capacity of optics with the software-based networking intelligence more familiar with the data networking world. Our team was built from the ground up with this philosophy in mind, and this paid off for us as the migration to Ethernet in the metro networks began to accelerate several years ago. In addition to optical systems expertise, we have exceptionally deep expertise and knowledge not only in Ethernet, but more importantly in Connection-Oriented Ethernet (COE), sometimes referred to as Carrier Ethernet. With COE, Ethernet service flows are provisioned across the service provider’s network in a deterministic way. The carrier knows the path that a given flow is following, and can designate protection paths in case of faults. Various management and operational tools and protocols, similar to TDM, are added to allow the operator to verify the connectivity, evaluate the quality of the connection, and determine when and where a fault has occurred. This technology has been a core component of our product development strategy, allowing us to integrate packet-centric capabilities on platforms that can simultaneously support TDM based services.

Commitment to Standards-Based

Another key design principal is our commitment to industry-standards. The implementation of standards-based technologies is a fundamental requirement for carrier networks today, and product designs need to adhere to a wide range of standard interfaces and interconnection protocols to deliver the functionality service providers need for the deployment of end-to-end services across multi-layer, multi-domain and multi-vendor networks. The industry organizations defining these standards include the IETF, IEEE and, in the case of Ethernet services, the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF). As we developed our products to meet the increased demands of packet-based services in the metro, we integrated the standards-based interfaces and protocols to allow our customers to deliver MEF-defined packet services such as Ethernet Private Line (EPL) services and Ethernet Virtual Private Line (EVPL) services. There are many carrier customers that will not require the premium performance required by TDM-based packet transport. For these customers, the increased efficiency and reduced cost offered by Ethernet-based switching and statistical multiplexing will prove attractive. These cost benefits are reduced if they must be implemented on a separate network element, or even a separate, parallel network. For this reason, our product development strategy includes the development of features that allow us to integrate a comprehensive range of TDM and packet capabilities within a single, cost-effective multiservice network element.
For service providers to establish more profitable Ethernet services, they need to look at the Ethernet packets that are being put into their networks, recognize the applications these packets belong to, prioritize them into channels , and charge the customers based on the level of service for that application that the customers select.

Advantages of Carrier Ethernet are many, key among them are:
- Equal if not as much reliability as SONET/SDH
- Betters service management through a number of diagnostics and tools
- Significantly lower price for bandwidth with Carrier Ethernet
- Carrier Ethernet infrastructure is more cost effective for transport of legacy services

Seamless Service Migration

Demand for Ethernet and IP will continue to drive a shift in service traffic across access, backhaul and metro networks. As a result, our global customers will continue to look for cost-effective ways to optimize existing network architectures for the efficient delivery of packet services. With a view towards building strategic relationships with our customers as their networks evolve, our development organization is continuously focused on delivering new products and tools that help our customers simplify network evolution and expand their existing offerings with a broad range of resilient Ethernet services.

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