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Alcatel-Lucent Wednesday introduced a virtual IP edge router that uses its traditional operating system to meet carrier cloud service needs, with the goal of enabling network operators to bring services to market quickly.
The Alcatel-Lucent Virtualized Service Router announcement follows a similar move by Juniper Networks last week to spotlight its virtualized MX Series 3-D edge router, which Juniper said is designed to help carriers and enterprises speed service deployments.
Alcatel-Lucent and Juniper are among equipment vendors joining a tiny but fast-growing group of suppliers rolling out carrier-grade virtual edge routers to network operators.
"We've been waiting for a year and a half for big router companies to lay out their software routing product strategy, and now Juniper and Alcatel-Lucent, while taking different approaches, have both announced v-router products," said Infonetics Research co-founder Michael Howard. Eventually all router vendors, including Cisco and Huawei, will have to roll out v-router strategies, Howard added, even though doing so may cannibalize their existing hardware product lines.
A new Infonetics forecast estimates the virtual router market for network operators will be a slim $2.5 million by the end of 2014. But in 2015, Infonetics projects the v-router market to grow to $21 million.
"Service providers have been waiting for these, so we think this is a market ready to start," Howard said.
Still, service providers plan to do a lot of testing in this new market segment.
"I think that in certain overlaid virtual environments, there is a good use case for virtualized routers running on hypervisors, but I don't think they will replace all purpose-built routing hardware any time in the foreseeable future," said Christopher Davis, NTT Communications senior director marketing Americas, in an email.
"The capacities we require for our core and edge networks, not to mention operational excellence, are critical to the success of our business. Our R&D teams, IP engineers and product development teams continue to research, test and evaluate router options and configurations (like virtual), as well as the vendors supplying them, while giving full consideration to the requirements contributed to us by our clients," he added.
Alcatel Lucent wants to give customers the flexibility to move into a more cloud-centric environment, because a cloud today is essentially a data center filled with racks of servers, said Manish Gulyani, Alcatel-Lucent vice president for IP routing product marketing. "What they [operators] would love to do is apply that philosophy of deploying apps to networking and to be able to run some of their key network functions as applications in their data centers."
Alcatel-Lucent based its v-router specifications on comments and suggestions from service providers that started the network functions virtualization (NFV) workgroup, Gulyani said. The message was that they needed to change the way they design and operate networks and deliver services if they are to remain relevant in the cloud world, he said. Alcatel-Lucent's answer was to decouple the software in its edge router hardware and make it available as a software-only application that runs on Intel x86 servers.
Alcatel-Lucent is using its Service Router Operating System as the foundation of its v-routers, which runs across its entire portfolio of aggregation, edge and core router products. "We rearchitected it to get the most out of this new way of scaling up," Gulyani said.
"You need to use certain platform and software techniques to benefit from this new flexibility. We're going to push the limits of scale both in control plane performance and on the data plane side."
Because most of its customers aren't building new networks, Alcatel-Lucent extended its operations environment with end-to-end management using the same tools customers use for its hardware-based products. "We worked to understand virtual machines and IT services so our management system looked and felt like an application," Gulyani said.
This doesn't mean virtual edge routers will replace purpose-built hardware, Gulyani said. Instead, network operators can use virtual edge routers specifically for applications better suited to a virtual foundation.
"Offering virtual routers at the network edge makes sense because that's where you say what IP traffic is for which customer. That's why we believe an edge platform makes sense to bring into the virtual world some subset of applications," he said.
Gulyani said Alcatel-Lucent has demonstrated 160 Gbps throughput on a single x86 server, a speed that will "give people the agility to introduce service quickly and scale it up to higher capacity by adding more instances of applications running on more servers."
Alcatel-Lucent said two service providers have already deployed the new v-routers, with 20 more in the process of testing them.
"Now carriers have the option to buy the packaged router code to run on servers for edge router applications," Infonetics' Howard said. "A year from now, the landscape of who's playing in the virtual routing space in carrier labs will be pretty obvious. But right now, it's not completely clear what the carrier-grade routing vendors are doing."
Neither Alcatel-Lucent nor Juniper has released virtual edge router pricing information.
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