Nortels Optical Ethernet Fire Burns

Steve Schilling, president of Nortel's new optical-Ethernet business, tells us why Sonet, RPR and Ethernet make a heady mix for the future.

Among the array of startups and network-equipment companies with multiple products in their portfolios that are focusing attention on the burgeoning optical Ethernet space is Nortel Networks. Emphasizing its resolve to be a major player in this emerging sector of the metropolitan network space, Nortel recently created an optical-Ethernet business unit. Steve Schilling, a 20-year veteran at Nortel, is president of optical-Ethernet corporate accounts. He recently spoke to executive editor Joe McGarvey about Nortels plans to attack the optical-Ethernet space and how they contrast with some of the companys competitors.

TNE: Does Nortels approach to bringing Ethernet into the public network involve a major overhaul of the way services are now delivered in the metropolitan portion of the network?

Schilling: No. The massive amounts of data on the network is now connected using circuits. We want to continue to use circuits to build out the network for data. We just think those circuits should be Ethernet circuits.

TNE: Unlike most startups, your optical-Ethernet strategy involves more than a single product line, right?

Schilling: We are not a one-trick pony. We are investing in a series of products.

TNE: How will those products, the OPTera and Passport product lines, play into your strategy — will they eventually morph feature sets?

Schilling: The router [Passport], for example, has Course WDM. The products will morph to a certain degree in time. Optical and Ethernet products will share common components.

TNE: Instead of the pure-data plays that most startup carriers are building, Nortel seems to be targeting incumbent carriers. Is that accurate?

Schilling: We believe you need to be a network company anticipating a network buildout of hundreds and thousands of circuits. We have to show the big network players a way to migrate to Ethernet intelligently.

TNE: Does that mean abandoning Sonet?

Schilling: What we think will happen is that Sonet will yield to Ethernet, but youll still need something to take traffic across light. We have the Sonet header and we are using that. We are also active in the RPR [Resilient Packet Ring] technology. Because we build Ethernet switching on the box, using the Sonet protocol, we provide traditional carriers with a graceful way to migrate.

TNE: Is having both an established optical-networking and an Ethernet-switching product line an advantage over startup players?

Schilling: You have to be both fully in the Ethernet and fully in the optical business to make this happen.