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ECI Telecom's Apollo mission

The privately-owned system vendor has launched Apollo, a family of what it calls optimised multi-layer transport platforms. 



ECI Telecom has launched a family of platforms that combines optical transmission, Ethernet and optical transport network (OTN) switching and IP routing.

The 9600 series platforms, dubbed Apollo, combines the functionality of what until now has required a packet-optical transport system (P-OTS) and a carrier Ethernet switch router (CESR).


The Apollo 9600 series architecture. Source: ECI Telecom

ECI refers to the capabilities of such a combined platform as optimised multi-layer transport (OMLT). Analysts view the platform as a natural evolution of P-OTS rather than a new category of system.  


Why is it important?

ECI's Apollo 9600 series is the first to combine dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) with carrier Ethernet switch routing. It is also one of the first platforms that bring OTN switching to the metro; until now OTN switching has been confined to the network core.

Apollo addresses a shortfall of packet optical transport, namely its limited layer 2 capabilities, says ECI. This is addressed with Apollo that also adds layer 3 routing, another first.

“In the buying cycle, operators start with optical networking and add carrier Ethernet switch routing,” says Oren Marmur, head of optical networking & CESR lines of Business at ECI Telecom. Now with Apollo, operators can simplify their networks: they don't have to provision, or maintain, two separate platforms.

ECI claims the Apollo platform, with 100 Gigabit-per-second (Gbps) transport and hybrid Ethernet and OTN cards, more than halves the equipment cost compared to using separate ROADM and CESR platforms. The company also says such an Apollo configuration reduces rack space by 38% and power consumption by some 60%.


What has been done

ECI has announced six Apollo platforms that span the access, metro and core networks. The platforms include the SR 9601 and OPT 9603 for metro access and the metro edge SR 9604 and OPT 9608 with four and eight input-output (I/O) cards respectively that support WDM or 100Gbps Ethernet MPLS packet switching. The final two platforms are the OPT 9624 for metro core and the OPT 9648 for regional and long haul, and both can accommodate a terabit universal switch. 

Overall Apollo can support 44 or 88 light paths at 10, 40 and 100Gbps, 2-degree and multi-degree colourless, directionless and contentionless ROADMs, OTN and Ethernet switching, and IP/ MPLS and MPLS-TP. "MPLS-TP versus IP/ MPLS is almost a religious issue yet both are valid," says Marmur, who adds that at 40 Gig, ECI will use coherent and direct detection technologies but at 100 Gig it will use only coherent.

The universal fabric of the OPT 9624 and 9648 is cell based - ODUs and packets, not lower-order SONET/SDH traffic. If an operator has any significant amount of SONET/SDH traffic, ECI’s XDM platform or another aggregation box is needed.

The platforms can be configured as CESR platforms, OTN switches, optical transport platforms or combinations of the three.



Gazettabyte asked Sterling Perrin, senior analyst at Heavy Reading; Rick Talbot, senior analyst, optical infrastructure at Current Analysis and Dana Cooperson, vice president of the network infrastructure practice at Ovum for their views about the ECI announcement.


Sterling Perrin, Heavy Reading

Apollo has several noteworthy aspects, according to Heavy Reading.

“It is a big announcement for ECI and a big announcement for the industry," says Perrin. “They are doing with the technology some fundamental things that are new.” That said, it remains to be seen how quickly operators will embrace an OMLT-style platform, he says. 

Apollo confirms one networking trend - moving the OTN switching fabric into the metro network. So far OTN has been confined largely to the core network. “I know operators are interested but they are still evaluating it,” says Perrin. “But OTN will migrate down from the core to the metro.” Others that have announced such a capability include Ciena and Huawei.  

ECI has also put the DWDM transport with the CESR platform. “This is another trend we figured would happen,” he says. “This puts ECI very early, if not first, in doing that function.”

Perrin has his doubts about how quickly the layer 3 functionality added to the platform will be embraced by operators: “What I've seen from the industry is that MPLS-TP will give you that functionality over time as it matures, so this sort of platform may not need the full layer 3 functions.” 

The modular nature of the design that allows operators to add the functionality they need helps avoid one issue associated with integrated platforms, paying for functionality that is not needed. And there are cost savings by having a single integrated platform. “You do want to save capex and opex and this is definitely a way to get that done,” says Perrin.

In the network core, the question remains whether packet needs to be combined with the optics. “Metro lends itself more to the integration than the core does,” he says.

ECI’s biggest competitor is probably Huawei and over time also ZTE, says Perrin. ECI has done well in India and other emerging markets that many of the system vendors were ignoring. “Now they have Huawei in the mix, it is definitely tougher,” he says. “This [Apollo] announcement will definitely help them.”


Rick Talbot, Current Analysis

Current Analysis categorises the smaller members of the Apollo family as a packet-optical access (POA) portfolio, playing the same role as Ericsson’s SPO 1400 family and Cisco’s CPT series. The market research firm views the largest two Apollo platforms - the OPT  9624 and 48 - as packet-optical transport systems.

The Apollo POAs bring protocol-agnostic packet switching to the aggregation network, says Talbot, a rarity in this part of the network. Several vendors offer P-OTS with universal switching fabrics but most do not extend that architecture into the aggregation network, Tellabs with the 7100 Nano OTS being the exception.  Also the 9600 series IP/ MPLS and MPLS-TP options are very strong, providing what Cisco and Ericsson call unified MPLS, he says.

For Current Analysis, the significance of the portfolio is that the Apollo family delivers converged packet and time-division multiplexing (TDM) switching in a single switch fabric, and provides an infrastructure that extends from the network core to the access network edge. 

The switching fabric provides the greatest efficiency for the ultimate traffic type - packets - while simplifying the network architecture and minimising equipment cost. In turn, the breadth of the portfolio provides a common set of capabilities across an operator’s network, minimising training costs and spares inventory.

As for the specification, the wide range of MPLS features integrated into this product family, its terabit universal switch and its 100Gbps DWDM transport capabilities are impressive, says Talbot.  

“The primary gap in the portfolio, and it is hard to fault ECI for this, is that the highest capacity member of the family supports ’only’ 1 Terabit-per-second of switching capacity,” he says.  “This is not large enough for a Tier 1 core optical switch.”

ECI must first execute on the production of the Apollo family, but if it does, Talbot believe that ECI will capture the interest of larger and more end-to-end operators in markets they already serve. 

ECI will also have positioned itself to capture the attention of many European operators and, if it makes a push there, the North American market. However Talbot believes ECI will still be challenged to capture the attention of Tier 1 operators because of the family’s limited maximum scale.


Dana Cooperson, Ovum

Size and scale breeds specialisation, says Cooperson. “Large service providers, including the Tier 1s, won’t be so interested in the OMLT, but they aren’t the target anyway,” she says. Large service providers need plenty of scale when it comes to WDM and CESR functionality, while they also tend to have compartmentalised operations groups. “So an all-in-one product like the OMLT isn’t targeted at them,” she says.

ECI has always done well selling to the Tier 2 and Tier 3 carriers as well as enterprises such as utilities that have carrier-like networks. That is because ECI's modular, packet-based platforms are sized and priced to match such operators' and enterprises’ requirements. “I see the OMLT as a continuation of ECI's positioning of its XDM platform,” she says.

Cooperson says that it can be difficult to position vendors’ switch announcements and that they should do more to explain where they sit. But she stresses that the Apollo 9600 series is very different from Juniper's PTX, for example. 

“The PTX is positioned in the core as a lower-cost alternative to core routers, while the OMLT as a CESR or even an OTN switch is meant more for smaller sites,” she says. Also the switch capacities of the smaller Apollo platforms fit with ECI's focus and positioning on smaller customers and smaller sites.

Cooperson also highlights the need for the XDM platform if an operator requires SONET/SDH support but says ECI has alluded to add/drop multiplexer blades as well as packet blades. "The [Apollo] focus is on the packet and photonic bits,” says Cooperson. “ECI did emphasize that the XDM isn’t going anywhere, but we’ll see what happens over time and how much SONET/SDH ECI builds in [if any to the Apollo].”


Further Reading

For accompanying White Papers, click here

Reader Comments (2)

All the white paper links are broken.

November 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymouse

Thanks Anonymouse, the papers have been moved!

I'll search and reestablish the links.

November 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRoy Rubenstein

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