Ericsson's Redback launches SM 480 Ethernet switch

Before Redback Networks was acquired by Ericsson there was speculation about whether Redback could deliver more products as it was labouring under development budget constraints. Perhaps the most important thing about the SM 480 announcement is it sends a signal to Redback customers that Ericsson is supporting them in this respect - with additional products expected.

The SM 480 focuses on Ethernet transport and services (carrier Ethernet) and will compete directly against the Alcatel-Lucent 7450 ESS and some configurations of the Cisco 7600 and Juniper MX-series.

The big question remains up in the air - is it better to market separate Ethernet transport and services products/chassis or sell different line cards in the same chassis‾

So far Redback and Alcatel-Lucent have pursued the former and Cisco (7600) and Juniper (MX) have pursued the latter. While expressing a bias towards the latter, I have not been able to get a good feel for how much difference one approach or the other makes to operator decisions. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the market and whether or not it is a non issue.

They may have to rethink the SONET/SDH issue depending on how fast SONET/SDH drops off (or not). Only 20Gbps per slot may provide some competitive turbulence. A broader range of products will be needed over time. Redback brings a decade of subscriber management experience to the table and should have the opportunity to leverage Ericsson's GSM presence, where the scale and per-slot issues may not be such a big deal. From an overall flavour of Redback messaging, the wireless and fixed mobile convergence opportunity is starting to become very prominent.

The SM 480  is not currently supporting SONET/SDH interfaces in the initial release of the SM 480. Alcatel-Lucent does support some SONET/SDH interfaces on the 7450 ESS and I noted that when the Juniper MX-series was launched it did not and that concerned me. Clearly Juniper has done well so far on the MX without SONET/SDH so there is a market for Ethernet-only devices, not surprisingly.

To get to the broadest market I believe SONET/SDH is still needed - not all flavors, just a couple for trunks where needed. At 20Gbps per slot (40Gbps aggregate ingress and egress) the SM 480 will not be able to support OC768 or future 40Gbps Ethernet standards (not expected until 2009/2010). Not sure how much of a problem that will be in practice (especially in the wireless market), but will obviously be an issue competitors focus on. Redback does support an oversubscribed 4x10 GE line card.

Redback is marketing something it calls 'layer 2 subscriber management'. Essentially it is the ability to support wholesale models (service/QoS features on L2TP tunnels for example). This is an area that Alcatel-Lucent does not currently support well - at least with respect to the kinds of protocols that have traditionally been used (Alcatel-Lucent is pushing new models based on VPNs).

Redback was late jumping on the Ethernet transport and services band wagon, even with the SmartEdge, especially showing in areas such as VPLS. The SM 480 is a positive statement to the market in this respect. Whether the Redback IP router culture will ultimately result in Redback being an innovator in the Ethernet transport and services area is an open question in my mind. 


My expectation is that it will take time for Redback to build significant revenues for this product. One year would be the expected period just to get through customer trials etc. Probably their customers will want to hear more about follow on products as well. The wireless backhaul solution set may need some more work as well (though there are apparently some pieces of this from the broader Ericsson portfolio).

Overall it is positive Redback has demonstrated they have the funds and ability to develop new products. This looks to be a competent entry in to the Ethernet aggregation market. The next milestone will be to create an Ethernet aggregation portfolio.

Mark Seery, Vice President, Switching and Routing