Allstream set for next-generation IP services through Cisco deal

MTS Allstream Thursday said it is preparing its multi-protocol label-switching network for next-generation Internet protocol services by deploying Cisco’s high-end core routing system.

The carrier is about to begin the first of a three-phase implementation of the CRS-1 product line, which will continue over the course of this year, an executive said. Allstream, which was acquired by MTS last year, has had a multi-core label-switching (MPLS) network since 2000, and the CRS-1 is intended to “future-proof” it against gigabit switch routers (GSR) that are approaching the end of their lives. MPLS networks are designed to improve Internet protocol (IP) package exchange. 

MTS Allstream senior vice-president of network services Paul Frizado said the CRS-1 will enhance and expand the Business IP service it offers to corporate customers, though putting the routers in place means placing close attention to the network topology.

“When you’re putting in these large routers, you’re running 10GB links between them,” he said. “You build in sections, because there’s a lot of geography between them.”

Cisco launched the CRS-1 with great fanfare in 2004 as a competitor to products from Juniper Networks. At the time, executives said the product represented a US$500-million investment, with much of the engineering work done in Ottawa. It is designed to perform edge, core, peering and service aggregation routing functions in one device with 40 Gbps customer ports.

According to Forrester Research analyst Robert Whiteley, Cisco has signed up at least 28 service providers to the CRS-1 so far, with another 13 in trials. It has gained the support in part by taking a product he estimated would cost US$1 million to deploy and by taking some of the code, features and functions “downstream” into a more affordable form factor, he said.

“They overshot the market,” he said. “They said, ‘We need to build a product that can last.’ At the time, they humbly said 20 years. It’s far too expensive for service providers to be forklift-upgrading their networks.”

Cisco Canada vice-president of service provider operations Olaf Krahmer said carriers are moving from an approach where they dedicate one network per service to one IP-MPLS network.

“The CRS-1 collapses all the legacy onto one platform,” he said, adding that this dovetails with the growth rates in many carrier networks. “The bandwidth requirement is doubling every year.”

Frizado said he sees the CRS-1 becoming more valuable as customers move towards real-time applications.

“As they migrate to IP, they have their own applications and are converting voice onto their data network,” he said. “That adoption is really taking off.”

The CRS-1 is designed to scale to 92 Tbps, but Frizado said it will take a long time before MTS Allstream or many other carriers would reach that threshold. Krahmer, meanwhile, said one of the product’s technical benefits is a modular operating system design that means companies won’t have to shut down and replace their network and OS before turning it back on again. “It’s like a case of performing open-heart surgery,” he said.


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