ATLANTA, June 7 -- Long-distance collaboration between California optical networking company Canoga Perkins and the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) has produced a unique piece of high-speed telecommunications equipment that will help BellSouth provide faster metropolitan and wide-area Ethernet service to its customers.
Completed in just four months, the project is part of a GTRI initiative to help companies speed new innovations to market.
The Model 9135G Gigabit Two-port Edge Access switch, manufactured by Canoga Perkins, facilitates high-speed Ethernet service for school systems and businesses that have multiple locations within a metropolitan area. The service is attractive because most school districts and companies already have expertise with Ethernet technology, which is widely used for local area networks inside buildings.
"Ethernet has become not only the predominant standard for local area networks within a building or campus, but it is also becoming a standard for how telecom companies operate their infrastructure," explained Bob Smith, senior director of Data Transport and Connectivity for BellSouth. "We are starting to see standards and capabilities emerge that will allow Ethernet to play a broader role. The capability provided by this new equipment will allow us to offer the flexibility of service our customers want."
Canoga Perkins has been a long-term equipment supplier to Bellsouth, which had been using Canoga Perkins Ethernet switches operating at 10 megabit- and 100 megabit-per-second speeds. When the Atlanta-based telecom company saw a need for a faster one-gigabit (1,000 megabit) switch, it asked Canoga to quickly produce the new equipment.
With its business booming, however, the company couldn't meet the tight time constraints, so with BellSouth's approval it turned to GTRI, with whom it was already working on other projects.
BellSouth wanted the software interface for the new equipment to operate just like the slower switches so the upgrade would be transparent to customers. The equipment had to fit in the same space as older switches, yet be powerful enough to send a signal through up to 90 kilometers of fiber optic cable.
Engineers from GTRI, BellSouth and Canoga began working together on a fast-track strategy to meet the requirements in less than the standard 6-12 month development time. GTRI took the lead in designing the hardware, while Canoga wrote the software and then brought it all together in a manufactured and tested product.
"We were able to create a solution in a very short period compared to what normal development cycles would have been," Smith noted. "It was truly a cooperative effort between Canoga, GTRI and BellSouth to make sure the switch provided the capabilities we needed as well as the consistent look and feel."
That cooperative effort involved regular video and telephone conferences between GTRI engineers - Joseph Long, Matt Miller and Juan Santamaria -- in Atlanta and the Canoga design team in Chatsworth, Calif. The groups posted designs on a shared Internet site, exchanged E-mail and held regular long-distance design meetings to make sure they were in synch.
"We were able to accomplish great things over distances with videoconferencing, even on very technical issues," said Long, a research engineer in GTRI's Information Technology and Telecommunication Laboratory. "It was an example of how by working very closely with a customer, we ended up with a product that was better than they could have done by themselves or we could have done by ourselves."
BellSouth is now deploying the new optical switch at customer locations in its nine-state service region. Because school districts must connect multiple facilities, they are primary customers for the high-speed Ethernet service, though BellSouth also offers it to commercial customers.
"As an enabling technology, this is enhancing student abilities to get into the Internet and have more access to computer technology," explained Ted Zernhelt, a senior member of BellSouth's Science and Technology Group. "It gives schools the bandwidth they need to grow into the future and is a technology that school districts are comfortable with and understand."
Originally used for local area networks within facilities, Ethernet is being extended beyond the boundaries its designers originally intended. Though not a solution for all customers, BellSouth said it expects Ethernet to grow in speed and importance.
"As businesses distribute their resources across geographically dispersed areas, their ability to interconnect these locations in a seamless way becomes a real issue," Zernhelt explained. "Ethernet started to move into the metropolitan area network and eventually into the wide area network. BellSouth, as a public provider, is very interested in providing customers with the capabilities needed for seamless connectivity. This opens up new opportunities."
The two-port Canoga switch serves as a doorway between a network inside an individual school or corporate location and the BellSouth Ethernet system. Information packets intended for delivery outside the school or business location pass through the switch, while packets destined for local user stay inside. The smart circuitry inside the switch also handles compatibility issues such as matching receiver sensitivity and transmitter power, easing the burden on local information technology managers.
Beyond making it easier to interconnect remote facilities, the Ethernet system also reduces equipment and network overhead.
"The data packets can remain Ethernet all the way from where they are sent to where they are received," explained Long. "They do not have to be encapsulated into another format or converted. When you have a very high bandwidth data stream, this can reduce overhead, making the operation cheaper and simpler."
The project for Canoga Perkins and BellSouth shows what Georgia Tech can do for its corporate customers, says Ron Bohlander, manager of GTRI's Commercial Product Realization Office.
"GTRI serves start-up companies and well established companies that need talented engineers to help speed up projects to get new products to market," he said. "Working in collaboration with the Canoga Perkins engineering team, GTRI was able to help them complete this project and have units rolling off the production line in record time. This was extremely important to Canoga's customer, BellSouth, which had important customer commitments to keep."