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More PBT control planes coming soon

PBT control plane pioneer Soapstone attracts rivals

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Though Soapstone Networks took the lead in addressing the market for a control plane to manage Provider Backbone Transport (PBT) networks, it won’t be alone for long. Sources say at least two new entrants are poised to join Soapstone soon, ushering in a more multi-vendor environment for PBT control planes.

Those new control planes will be unveiled “this year for sure--probably in the first half,” said one source familiar with the suppliers, adding, “You’ll definitely see it in the startup area. I haven’t seen too many plans from big networking companies.”

One of the new PBT control planes likely to exit the stealth stage soon is that from Gridpoint Systems. Although short of a true public unveiling of its platform, Gridpoint demonstrated its system across multiple vendors’ hardware at the Carrier Ethernet World Congress in Geneva last fall, shortly after completing an $8-million series-A funding round. Gridpoint’s top management team hail from Newbridge Networks, the ATM switch vendor that was acquired by Alcatel in 2000. Gridpoint’s CEO, Jim Arseneault, founded broadband wireless startup Dragonwave, which is now Gridpoint’s partner as well as a member of Nortel Networks’ PBT “ecosystem.”

Equipment vendors chasing the nascent PBT market such as Extreme Networks and Hammerhead Systems have both partnered with Soapstone but are chatting up its would-be rivals, knowing that their emergence gives service providers more choice and, in turn, greater comfort with PBT.

“There are other [PBT control plane] solutions out there,” Rob Keil, Hammerhead’s founder and vice president of marketing, said last fall. “As they mature and as customers embrace other solutions, we’re open to working with a whole range of third-party providers.”

The need for a PBT control plane is increasing as vendors seek to offer the Ethernet transport technology in more than just point-to-point applications. In recent months, Hammerhead, Extreme and Nortel Networks have all introduced new equipment that enables point-to-multipoint and multipoint-to-multipoint PBT networks. Because much of PBT’s coveted low cost and simplicity comes from its design as a point-to-point tunneling technology, its use in more complicated scenarios requires control planes to provision those tunnels with a view of available network paths.

Core router vendor Avici Networks, which renamed itself Soapstone, was the first to act in anticipation of this need, announcing plans to sell a PBT control plane more than a year ago. And it has a head start over the newcomers. The company claims it is shipping software to customers today and has nearly 50 switches from 10 different vendors in its certification labs.

“We've also moved beyond the initial functionality for PBB-TE control plane--provisioning, monitoring and repair--and are launching in couple of months new modules for automation of other service lifecycle functions including service level agreement monitoring, optimization and planning,” Esmeralda Swartz, Soapstone’s cofounder and senior vice president of marketing and business development, said this week. “The other direction we've moved in is to [branch out into] MPLS and optical multi-vendor provisioning. Soapstone will be the multi-vendor, multi-technology, multi-layer services control plane.”

“I have yet to hear of new entrants into this space--they've done a good job in stealth mode,” she added. “Good luck to them, but my general impression is that they'll be about two years too late.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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