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"The USP of our products is the built-in software intelligence"
By Mahesh Rathod and Shubha Murthy

Bangalore-based Tejas Networks has partnered with US-based Sycamore Networks to build a complementary set of products using a common software platform and network management systems. Kumar N. Sivarajan, co-founder and chief technology officer, Tejas Networks spoke to Network Magazine and delineated the optical networking trends

Can you give an overview of Optical networking?
Optical networking makes use of fibre for transmission of signals in the form of light. Fiber optic networking is more than a decade old, when we had this whole SONET and SDH hierarchy, which today goes up to over 10GB. The more recent development i.e. in the past six to seven years is DWDM (Dense Wave Division Multiplexing). Today optical networking has become synonymous with DWDM the use of multiple frequencies or wavelengths for different signals from the infrared light portion of the optical spectrum. This has been the trend on the hardware optic side.

What is the current trend?
Currently, the trend is to add intelligence on these optic boxes, which are used by carriers such as VSNL, Reliance, and Tata Power. All along bandwidth was viewed as a long-term investment, in the form of leased lines that could last up to 10 years. So there was no need for any intelligence on these boxes as there is in an IP router, for instance.

IP routers are supposed to deliver packets very fast, but depending on the circuit, it can take its own time. Now, there is a rapidly emerging market for shorter and shorter length circuits. If some one wants bandwidth urgently for a few hours we can't take a few days to deliver the same. Motivated by such demands, optic boxes are also trying to accommodate a lot of intelligent software that is traditionally associated with IP routers.

What is the optic networking scene in India?
In India, we have had SDH networks for a while now, which have been offering speeds from 155 MB through 622 MB up to 2.5 GB. With newer carriers coming in, we will see DWDM deployment by the end of this year. Tata Power has already deployed Sycamore's DWDM for its backbone, and the access part of the network is supplied by Tejas.

What is blocking optical network deployment in India?
The national long distance market was deregulated around the same time last year. Since this is an infrastructure product, it is bound to take time. Laying optic fiber networks is similar to laying national highways. It takes a lot of time to dig up, lay the fiber optic cable and then the equipment. The work is of the same magnitude; the operations involved are huge. But I think it is proceeding at a fairly rapid pace.

Only ducts are being laid and not the cables? Why?
Though there is no cable crunch, it is also not available in abundance as it is being laid all over the world. Around this time last year there was a crunch in optical fiber, though now it has eased out and is steadily available. It doesn't take very long to lay the cable, as there are sophisticated technologies for doing this.

There are also commercial implications. A trend might set in where a company might own the ducts and may allow some other company to lay the cables.

What products is Tejas offering the optical networking market in India?
Currently, we have introduced the family of multi service access products that sit between consumers of bandwidth and the backbone of the network.

Since we address the carrier market, the consumers of bandwidth are very big who have leased lines at 2 Mbps or higher rates. Our customers include ISPs, who have high speed leased lines to connect their data centers and so on; cellular operators and carriers. For instance, Tata Power has deployed DWDM backbone equipment. The equipment, which connects the consumers to this backbone network, is what we are manufacturing in India.

These products are also available from companies such as Alcatel. But what differentiates our products is that they are state-of-the-art. Our product is only three and half inches high and on one card we can accommodate all the interfaces i.e. sixty-three E1s, three E3s and two 155 MB interfaces connected to the network. This is the densest product in this category.

Besides, we have put a lot of software intelligence into this product. This is our USP. Therefore we believe that the product is going to proliferate. The network is going to have lots of these boxes. For instance, a client will want bandwidth for the next hour, so we can automatically provision. On a leased line such provisioning is going to take a lot of time.

The intelligence that we have built in to the boxes performs three things:

  • When a new box is added into the network, the box is capable of learning the topology of the other boxes and the existing ones of this new box. This is called automatic topology discovery. This intelligence is not there in most other telecom equipment but can be found on IP routers. The same concept has been incorporated in these boxes. These boxes have a powerful processor, FLASH RAM, a hard disk, and hence, in a sense, is a mini computer.
  • The intelligence to calculate routes on the user side is also incorporated.
  • After calculating the route, the last aspect is signaling. Every box has to be configured to support a leased line between two points. But such signaling of routes is incorporated into the box itself.

Therefore, we have a very intelligent network management system that relies on software running in the box and is implemented using protocols and algorithms borrowed from the IP world and adapted for use in the telecom space. This makes the box scaleable and easy to use. These boxes are priced depending on the configuration and range between US$ 15,000 and US$ 35,000.

Are you lobbying with the government to promote optical networking?
There is no need for us to lobby with the government, as the carriers realize that optic fiber is the only option they have, because technologically speaking, there is not even a technology in the lab that could be a potential replacement for optic fiber. Thus there is no threat for optic fiber in the next 10 to 15 years as the risk factor is zero.

Since the carrier market segment is miniscule, don't you foresee a saturation point?
There isn't a very huge market in terms of the number of customers. But each customer is a very large customer with networks worth 10s of millions of dollars. Besides, every business goes through a cycle. There is a slack period and a growth period. Our business is going to be driven not by the number of users but by how much bandwidth each uses.

Do you see optic fiber deployment on the LAN front?
Optical networking within the enterprise hasn't taken off as it has on the backbone. Optical networking is suitable only for large data transfers. In the enterprise, Ethernet has made a strong presence and now even gigabit Ethernet is gradually moving in.

There are other optic technologies emerging for LAN deployment such as passive optical networking (PON). It will take quite a long time before optic fiber is deployed within the enterprise, and not until there are applications that will warrant optic fiber deployment.

Mahesh Rathod and Shubha Murthy can be reached at netmagindia@vsnl.com

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