Building the Optimal Edge
by Larry Hettick

Published February 2001




Gigabit Ethernet LANs have brought broadband speed to the end-user's desktop. All-optical core networks have delivered tremendous capacity in the wide area. Aggressive broadband access deployments are beginning to connect the two and promise incredible new service capabilities. Unfortunately, the infamous "edge network" has failed to effectively bridge the LAN-WAN capacities. Nor have edge devices—either in the service provider network or on the customer premises—been able to facilitate the new services that providers hope to offer, or the simplified and converged networks they would prefer to operate.


Part of the problem is that although the edge remains the broadband bottleneck, the clearly-defined edge between enterprise and service provider networks—the old demarc—is vanishing. For example, devices like multiservice switches that once lived only in carrier central offices are also found at the customer premises. Now called "customer located equipment," these devices are still managed and controlled by the service provider. Similarly, servers, databases and storage equipment, once located solely at the customer premises, now also reside in providers' datacenters and central offices.


This blurring between premises and network-based functions has also complicated development of the networking products that directly target the carrier edge network. For the past few years, vendors have tried combining the many traditional functions performed by end office and tandem access equipment, but have not yet hit on the perfect solution.


Instead, multifunction and multivendor edge solutions have proliferated. Each boasts a complex set of often-overlapping functions, yet no single solution has made it easy for carriers to provide broadband access and provision new service features.


To be successful, emerging solutions will have to meet three critical objectives:

  1. Bridge the bandwidth bottleneck—between user LANs and the optical core.

  2. Improve the serviceability of carrier networks—make it easier to define, provision, bill, and manage services and equipment.

  3. Enable converged carrier infrastructures—to simplify carrier networks and support new end-user services.



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