HANNOVER, Germany Nortel Networks Inc. has undertaken the first major expansion of the Accelar switch-routing family since its acquisition of Accelar developer Bay Networks Inc. At CeBit this week, the Canadian telecom giant will unveil a relationship with IPivot Inc. through which that startup's load-balancing bandwidth shaper architecture will become the 700 family of server switches in the Accelar line.
Nortel also will unveil a high-end Accelar system based on a packet-classification ASIC with roots in Rapid City Communications Inc., a Layer 3 switching and Gigabit Ethernet startup that Bay acquired in 1997. Early Rapid City platforms included a version of the Accelar Express Classifier (AXC) ASIC, but the version of the chip designed for the Accelar 8000 platform allows the large enterprise switch to scale to backbone speeds of 256 Gbits/second. Packet classification is thus supported at the media-access control (MAC), Internet Protocol (IP) or Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) port layer.
Taking aim at Cisco
The launches come as Nortel's Ottawa headquarters redirects its router strategy to gain an edge over Cisco Systems Inc. Nortel is emphasizing policy-driven management that leverages the advanced packet-analysis features of Accelar and New Oak Communications Inc.'s hardware, combining those capabilities with new common policy strategies enabled in the Bay-developed management software known as Optivity.
By extending Accelar in two directions, Nortel hopes the IPivot box will be used to manage traffic for server farms while the Accelar 8000 serves as an aggregation point to mix switched-IP services and voice services from an IP-oriented PBX. Over time, the original Accelar 1200 routing switch and the new 8000 edge switch can link in the WAN to such Nortel equipment as the Meridian PBX and the Passport 6000.
To the extent that corporate voice traffic becomes part of the mix, the new strategy can overlap with the Nortel architectural alliance announced Monday (March 15) with Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. HP will OEM a business-communications server and business-messaging server based on Nortel's voice technology. Nortel, meanwhile, has agreed to standardize on Intel architectures for many of its voice-processing and messaging products. Microsoft's role is to provide the NT operating systems for the two voice servers.
Voice, however, may be a footnote to Nortel's broader data strategies. Basil Alwan, vice president and general manager of Nortel's enterprise products group, said aggregation of voice and video traffic in a corporate backbone is no longer good enough. The demand for high-availability access to server farms drove the deal with IPivot (Poway, Calif.), he said, and the need for fine-grained quality-of-service (QoS) features and advanced secure virtual-private-network provisioning required a multilayer packet-classification engine in Accelar that could scale to 256 Gbits/s, compared with 15 Gbits/s in the original Accelar 1200. That translates to processing speeds of up to 200 million IP packets per second.
"This wasn't just an issue of scaling for wire-speed visibility of packets at hundreds of gigabits per second," Alwan said. "It was also a matter of seeing as far into the packet as possible, to determine application-layer details of packet flows."
J. Craig Easley, director of product marketing for network-management software at Nortel, said similar demands are driving the evolution of the Optivity management package. Nortel will use its common NetID data format from Optivity to create a base of QoS features driven from high-level corporate policies, for addition to the package later in 1999. That will be followed by a second set of features, dealing with security, that will be implemented in the Optivity Policy Services 2.0 release.
Optivity is becoming a unified management platform for Nortel Meridian and Passport WAN products, as well as all Bay platforms. And the ability to access Cisco routers through the software Bay acquired from Netsation Inc. is proof that Nortel intends Optivity to be a "legitimate multivendor management system," Easley said.
Tony Rybczinski, director of strategic marketing and technologies for enterprise data at Nortel Ottawa, said policy provisioning and enforcement have become a mantra among the Nortel divisions. One factor that has made the Bay/Nortel merger proceed more smoothly than the Synoptics/Wellfleet merger into Bay, Rybczinski said, is that "we were all talking the same language to an amazing degree before the merger. Nortel's plans to move into Internet Protocol involved top-down provisioning that sounded like the future of the Bay architectures."
As an edge switch, the 8000 had to be designed for high availability and fault tolerance, to match the server load-balancing capabilities of the new 740/750 family provided through the IPivot OEM deal. In addition to such obvious hardware features as redundant switching fabrics and power supplies, Nortel used a new protocol in the Accelar 8000 called the Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol (VRRP), which allows automated assignment of a new gateway when an initial router gateway goes down.
"The VRRP Layer 3 protocol allows the definition of a hot-standby router that provides service availability for server farms," Alwan said. "The IPivot technology then allows the selection of which servers to use."
The AXC packet-classifier ASIC in the 8000 can handle up to 32,000 flows and can assign packets to up to eight hardware-based queues for every port. The ASIC can manipulate the IP type-of-service header to handle all emerging features of the Internet Engineering Task Force's Differentiated Services standard.