Juniper Networks is developing a massive switch that could replace traditional IP (Internet Protocol) routers in the core of service-provider networks and combine optical and electronic technologies that today exist in separate systems with dedicated staffs.
The PTX Series Packet Transport Switch platform, of which the first products will ship in the first quarter of next year, will combine two technologies that carriers use to bypass routing at the centre of their networks. Routing involves the processor-intensive work of examining every packet, and it often isn't necessary for traffic that is just traversing the core of the network. Instead, carriers use MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) and optical switching, neither of which requires full routing intelligence, to move traffic through the core.
The PTX platform combines these approaches in the same box and is not designed as a router at all. Juniper wants to relegate routers to the edges of the network and devote the PTX chassis to switching. This will allow the company to focus the processing power of the new system on the tasks required of the core, Juniper says.
Carriers are under pressure to boost their network capacity to handle fast-growing traffic loads. They want to do so economically, because they continue to bring in about the same amount of revenue from their subscribers even as third-party service and content providers deliver more bandwidth-hungry offerings such as video, analysts said. By optimising the PTX for switching instead of routing, and integrating optical technology into the same chassis, Juniper may cut carriers' costs while bolstering the network capacity, it says.
For enterprises and consumers who buy services from carriers, this might mean a slower rise in their monthly bills or better services for the same rates.
Adding optical switching to a packet switch brings Juniper into a totally new market and could dramatically change carriers' network operations over time. Today, carriers feed packets from their core routers into a separate optical infrastructure, which places the traffic on separate wavelengths of light for fast transmission. The traffic needs to be converted from the electronic to the optical realm, and then back again on the other end of the network. Putting both in the same chassis simplifies the network and removes those costly conversions, while also making it easier to scale up the infrastructure.
The company claims the PTX platform can cut network capital expenditures by between 40 percent and 65 percent compared with a traditional multiprotocol routing architecture and by 35 percent compared with an IP-only routing system.
The announcement of the PTX sets Juniper on a new architectural path for the second time in just two weeks. Two weeks ago the company unveiled QFabric, a converged enterprise network platform that creates a single logical switch throughout an entire datacentre. Like the new carrier-network infrastructure, QFabric is designed to eliminate multiple layers of switches and reduce the number of required devices. The overall architecture, which Juniper calls the Converged Supercore, will also include ROADMs (reconfigurable optical add-drop multiplexers), management systems and other components, the company says.
"I was impressed that [Juniper] took the step of competing with themselves and other core router companies by building this MPLS switch," says analyst Michael Howard of Infonetics Research.
Many carriers have been looking for pure MPLS switching for their network cores, according to Howard. In addition, large carriers maintain separate staffs of engineers for optical and electronic switching, as well as separate management systems, and the PTX switches could allow them to consolidate their staffs over time. Those struggling with the most exploding traffic are looking to consolidate the technologies in two or three years, while others may take five to eight years, Howard says.