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Archive    18 Nov 2008     #70

Achieving Hardware High Availability
The Old-Fashioned Way:  Cast Iron KISS

By William Flanagan, Publisher and Principle Consultant

Big Iron computers have become little chips, but Keep It Simple Stupid is still great advice. 
A company taking aim at the carrier market decided to follow these old fashioned principles when designing an optical transport platform with huge capacity.  Putting tons of eggs in one basket, the basket had to be "big iron" reliable, better than the proverbial five 9's.

As explained by Rob Adams, VP of Marketing at Ekinops, they started with a simple basket--the multi-slot chassis carries no customer traffic on the back plane, only control signals--backplane failure won't interrupt data flows.  The control module configures the processing modules, but stays out of the data path.  You can pull the control card without disturbing any existing connections (of course changes aren't possible until you put it back).

So all the work of muxing, demuxing, regenerating, and switching is done in the same cards that hold the I/O ports.  Lots going on there:
--up to 80 channels (wavelengths) today, heading for 160 in early 2009 and a target of 320 later (very Dense Wave Division Multiplexing as well as Coarse);
--any mix of 10 and 40 GHz on adjacent channels, which are on 100 GHz spacing (going to 50 GHz when the channels double);
--multiple protocols on the same wavelength (SONET, SDH, IP) using TDM techniques;
--Forward Error Correction on all the streams, which is the equivalent of at least 10 dB of gain in signal strength, stretches the reach for repeaterless runs of fiber (recent fiber, with low loss and dispersion, is good for 1,800 to 2,000 km).  Think submarine cable.

Taking advantage of the rapidly declining prices 10 GHz technology, the I/O is largely 10 G Small Form-factor Pluggable (SFP) module used by most hardware vendors in routers and switches to terminate fiber.  They help keep down the physical size and let users adopt the least expensive SFP version for the reach needed.

The greatest contribution to size reduction is the highly integrated "T-chip" that Ekinops developed--and is keeping for itself.  On a programmable gate array (PGA), they combine the multiplexer, multiple protocol stacks, data format conversion, regeneration, FEC, dispersion correction, and I/O drivers.  There's very little else that requires additional chips.  Result:  lower power and fewer components as well as smaller size.

And that is where they attain high availability.  A simple product, that is also flexible and adaptable.  Without going into detail, Adams also claimed lower cost to manufacture which is passed through in lower pricing.  Lower, that is, compared to other NEBS-3 qualified, carrier-grade equipment.  To fit that mold, the box offers all the usual suspects in control interfaces:  SNMP with MIB extensions, ASN.1, command line interface, a Java craft interface, and (coming) TL1. 

While most of the five 9's design achieves its goal through KISS, Ekinops does apply redundancy to the most popular spares:  power supplies and fans.  And that, to me, is basic HA.  More details at http://www.ekinops.net/products-01.html.

Let's Take a Vote
Nothing to do with politics, but a question about the content of this ViewsLetter.
Interest in high availability appears to have dropped off, across the industry in general and certainly among our clients.  Currently the largest work area is VoIP.   How about you? 

Would you prefer to see ViewsLetter shift its focus to Voice over IP (VoIP)?
Please let me know:   email  Bill@Flanagan-Consulting.com

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