AlcaLu pushes NFV to the IP router edge

Alcatel-Lucent announced at its annual Technology Symposium that the firm’s entire suite of IP edge router software will be able to run on standard COTS (commercial-off-the-shelf) servers, although the timeline for full commercial availability is still a bit hazy (see roadmap below).

“We’re giving operators the freedom of either running our software code, with all the routing, on dedicated hardware, or porting that code – where it makes sense – on standard x86 servers,” says Phil Tilley, Alcatel-Lucent’s marketing director of cloud strategy and solutions.

Alcatel-Lucent’s operator pitch is that dedicated edge router hardware will still be needed to support high-capacity demand from large enterprises, while the more flexible VSR (virtualized service router) can meet the needs of smaller businesses. The supplier has no intention of cannibalizing dedicated edge router hardware that supports heavy data-plane processing.

Basil Alwan, Alcatel-Lucent’s president of IP routing and transport – speaking at the symposium – said there was “an order of magnitude” difference in price performance in favour of dedicated hardware (compared with NFV) when processing large amounts of data.

Shorter time-to-market is another VSR advantage, argues Tilley, since it allows operators to get a new service up and running about 90 days quicker than a non-virtualized approach. “That’s 90 days quicker to get revenue, which is a massive cash-flow boost,” he says.

Some VSR functions – which require relatively little data processing – are already available. These are route reflectors (VSR-RR) and an IP-MPLS software-based router simulator (VSR-SIM). Alcatel-Lucent said at the symposium it had already won two VSR contracts.

Other functions in Alcatel-Lucent’s IP edge routing suite will not be commercially available on standard servers until next year, including the VSR-PE (virtualized provider edge) which can deliver carrier ethernet and IP/VPN services.

“The big question you have when migrating software from dedicated hardware to COTS hardware is can you get the performance that makes it worthwhile?,” says Tilley. This is why Alcatel-Lucent is spending more time on testing, in order to reassure customers, although Tilley reckons Alcatel-Lucent is well positioned to prove doubters wrong.

As Alcatel-Lucent’s SR OS (service router operating system) is architected on 64-bit processors for its own hardware, which lends itself to multi-core processing, Tilley argues that the company’s software for a virtual environment (also based on SR OS) makes it easier to squeeze out a better performance from COTS hardware.

At the symposium Alcatel-Lucent demonstrated single-duplex 160Gbps throughput on a 2RU (two-rack unit) x86 server for a VSR-PE routing application. “We’re setting a benchmark that is way ahead of what anyone else can achieve in the industry for throughput and performance,” claims Tilley.

It also means customers using Alcatel-Lucent’s SR OS in dedicated hardware can use the supplier’s same management system (SAM) when migrating functions onto a virtual environment, which lowers operational costs.

Existing Alcatel-Lucent edge router customers are clearly more likely to dip their toes into NFV waters with VSR than operators using equipment from other suppliers, although Tilley reckons VSR will give Alcatel-Lucent a good chance of breaking into new markets (such as smaller operators and enterprises) as well as tempt existing customers into complementing dedicated appliances with NFV (perhaps as a way to quickly add more capacity or even to break into new territories).

“Alcatel-Lucent is pursuing a similar strategy to Juniper [which announced virtualization of its edge router suite last week], which is to protect its existing customer base and capture new virtualized services,” says Nav Chander, an analyst at IDC, a research firm. “It’s not clear, however, if Juniper can match Alcatel-Lucent on throughput performance.”

Cisco, market leader on IP routers, has yet to announce a virtualization strategy for its edge portfolio. Chander thinks NFV announcements from Alcatel-Lucent and Juniper may well force Cisco’s hand.

Alcatel-Lucent’s VSR roadmap

• VSR-RR: Available now.
• VSR-SIM: Available now.
• VSR-PE: The Virtualized Provider Edge delivering Carrier Ethernet and IPN services: available for demonstration now and commercially available during the first half of 2015.
• VSR-AA: The Virtualized Application Assurance delivers application-based value added services and application-level reporting and traffic management. Available for demonstration now and commercially available during the first half of 2015.
• VSR-SEGW: The Virtualized IP Security Gateway will be available for demonstration during the first half of 2015.
• VSR-WLGW: The Virtualized Wireless LAN Gateway will be available for demonstration during the second half of 2015.
• VSR-BNG: The Virtualized Broadband Network Gateway will be available for demonstration during the second half of 2015.

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