C&W Frame Relay Service Focuses on SNA

Cable & Wireless is moving to solidify its newfound prominence in the enterprise network market with a global managed frame relay service.

Announced this week, the Cable & Wireless SNA Connect service is based on IBM WAN equipment that Cable & Wireless will offer to install at customer sites in 66 countries.

Despite the service's name, it will not simply carry SNA traffic, though its initial target was financial and shipping firms looking to integrate SNA into multiprotocol network architectures. The service potentially can carry any type of frame relay traffic. Users will have a choice of IBM routers, access concentrators and frame relay access devices.

Cable & Wireless will be the customer's point of contact, but IBM Global Services will configure and maintain the equipment and provide additional consulting. Customers will pay for frame relay transport and a management fee.

The move broadens Cable & Wireless' service portfolio just as the company is obtaining a new base of customers. Cable & Wireless recently purchased MCI's Internet services division. Cable & Wireless officials say they are looking to provide users with an intermediate step away from legacy networks before they migrate to an all-IP infrastructure.

Giving users a way to obtain a common multiprotocol access platform via a managed service is even more important internationally than it is domestically, says frame relay specialist Steven Taylor, president of Distributed Networking Associates in Greensboro, N.C. "That way, most of the [international] incompatibilities are already taken care of," Taylor says.

This is IBM's third deal this year in which its products or consulting services have been included in a major carrier's sales package.

In May, IBM inked a deal with Sprint to team up on SNA-over-frame relay consulting assignments. But that was strictly for domestic networks, says Rob Zimmer, IBM's general manager of service provider solutions. Shortly thereafter, IBM signed on as a partner to work on what is now MCI WorldCom's Enterprise Blue product suite, which also offers managed SNA over frame relay. But IBM's role was relegated to software, with the routers and frame relay access devices coming from Cisco.

A key difference between the Cable & Wireless and MCI WorldCom services could revolve around SNA encapsulation techniques, company officials say. The IBM gear in the Cable & Wireless networks supports the IETF's RFC 1490, which tags frame relay packets as SNA traffic. By contrast, the Cisco equipment utilizes Data Link Switching, a technique that encapsulates SNA datagrams in IP packets.

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