RBC brings its fibre optics in-house

The Royal Bank of Canada says it has its future bandwidth needs under control following the launch of a private high-speed optical network connecting key data centres through a Gigabit Ethernet transport system.

Based on wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM) equipment from Ottawa-based Meriton Networks, the bank’s network links its primary data centre in Toronto with another in Guelph, Ont., along with a data path running to its contact centre in Mississauga. The architecture includes Meriton’s 7200 optical switching platform, its 8600 network management system and its 8300 element management system, among other components.

RBC’s decision to set up the private optical network was in part a response to requests from a business unit dedicated to data storage, which was grappling with issues around Sarbanes-Oxley, e-mail journaling and other regulatory requirements, said Dominic Paré, the bank’s manager of WAN infrastructure.

“The water was building behind the dam. It almost didn’t matter which (regulatory requirement) contributed to it the most, it all just started flowing,” he said. “The single most pivotal point was securing the dark fibre. We had been shopping for years and only secured the facilities we needed in areas just as we needed them.”

WDM — which multiplexes multiple optical carrier signals on a single optical fibre by using different wavelengths of laser light to carry different signals — is most commonly used by carriers to expand network capacity without laying more fibre.

According to Meriton president and CEO Mike Pascoe, banks are the kind of enterprises that often face the same kind of bandwidth demands. In RBC’s case, he said the benefit comes from being able to provide user services more quickly.

“More often than not, carriers have an existing optical network. It’s scaling the existing network that’s expensive,” he said. “Adding nodes is quite a challenge.”

Meriton is trying to address that problem, Pascoe said, by using software controls to change things like an OC-48 line interface to Gigabit Ethernet, and using small form factor pluggable (SFP) interfaces and cards to add wavelengths. The products also use integrated wavelength switching, which minimizes the need for additional equipment.

“Until recently optical networks have been difficult to engineer,” he said.

Paré said RBC stopped buying OC-48 capacity from carriers because it forecast major cost escalations that would have been difficult to justify. Taking its optical network in-house will mean an end to recurring monthly charges, he said.

“We very heavily factored in wavelength speed — today’s networks are usually based on 2.5 Gbps laser. With this, we can go to 10 Gbps — it’s literally a modular replacement,” he said. “We didn’t need any guys in little white lab coats to tune the lasers daily or hourly.”

Proposal too expensive
Shin Umeda, principal router analyst with Redwood Shores, Calif-based research firm Dell’Oro Group, has been tracking the WDM market since about 2000, but he said it is another Canadian network equipment firm that has grabbed most of the market share so far.

“On an annual basis (Nortel) has been the leader every year,” he said. “Its strength is in selling to enterprises and not just carriers and service providers. That’s one of the reason they’ve done so well and maintained their share in the market.”

Paré said RBC considered Nortel but found its proposal too expensive. “We were doing this from scratch,” he said. “There were no backwards compatibility requirements, which is Nortel’s strongest suit.”

Pascoe said Meriton’s products are attracting companies that are good at measuring the value of their operating expenses. “(RBC) understands that it costs money to manage networks,” he said. “The ability to be able to look at a part of the network, move over to a spare circuit without any pitfalls, change a patch cord — it’s the changing services and troubleshooting.”

Umeda said the business considerations behind RBC’s deployment are consistent with what Dell’Oro has been seeing over the last several years.

“A lot of people have been looking at that disaster recovery scenario. That’s been a big driver of WDM Metro,” he said. “It’s a very good way to take a lot of your information that you have stored on all your disk space and then back it up in another location. That allows the data to be transferred at very high rates.”

Besides Nortel, Umeda said Cisco has been getting more aggressive in the WDM space since acquiring Cerent Corp. and Monterey Networks several years ago.

The Meriton architecture will allow RBC to scale to 320 Gbps of capacity without adding any shelves, Pascoe said.

Paré said that RBC’s decision some time ago to collapse its infrastructure into a more centralized data centre environment means the network will benefit multiple business units. “We will not to have to worry about pockets of requirements, which makes it an even better business case,” he said. “We were never afforded a lot of luxury for growth. Now we’ve afforded a lot of luxury and comfort.”

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