Alcatel takes aim at the branch office

Alcatel has figured out what it is going to do with the five network equipment vendors it bought for $US4.35 billion over the past 11 months: sell integrated voice and data gear to enterprise branch office customers.

Alcatel recently outlined its plan for the technology acquired when it bought Assured Access, Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories, Internet Devices, Packet Engines and Xylan, starting with a line of switch/routers designed for corporate branch offices.

The European telecomms equipment company has decided not to compete with enterprise network giants Cisco, 3Com, Nortel Networks and Lucent for their core routing business and to focus instead on the needs of remote locations.

Alcatel will make its foray into this area in December with the introduction of its OmniAccess line of branch office switch/routers, which are based on Xylan's hardware platform.

Next year, Alcatel will introduce IP voice cards for the modular OmniAccess chassis, and enable the switch/routers to work with virtual private network (VPN) offerings obtained from Internet Devices. Later, the VPN support will be built into OmniAccess devices, Alcatel says.

Toward the end of next year, Alcatel will offer a version of OmniAccess for single-site small to mid-size businesses, incorporating PBX functions in the box. The company envisions that ISPs or competitive local carriers will use the OmniAccess boxes to provision voice and data services over IP networks, says Joelle Gauthier, vice president of marketing for Alcatel's internetworking division. Alcatel next year also will seek partners to supply SNA support for the gear.

Beyond that, the plan calls for a Gigabit Ethernet LAN port on the OmniAccess gear as well as a beefed-up firewall and analog voice support, she says.

The box to be introduced in December is OmniAccess 512, a WAN switch/ router sporting 12 fixed 10/100 Ethernet ports and optional WAN ports for T-1 or ISDN. It also has a serial port to connect to other network gear. Pricing has not been set.

OmniAccess will enforce quality of service (QoS) as set by PolicyView, a new network management platform. PolicyView will also map LAN QoS policies to the WAN using Resource Reservation Protocol to establish appropriate bandwidth for applications. It will employ traffic-shaping technology from Packet Engines to avoid bottlenecks at the LAN/WAN interface.

Gear that Alcatel makes for carrier nets, including access devices from Assured Access, will carry QoS requests throughout the service-provider net.

Using the Xylan gear as the basis of the new family is a good strategy because Xylan gear is stable, and the company established a solid customer base, says Ron Westfall, an analyst with Current Analysis.

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