- Brian Van Steen, rhk, referring to the ‘454,’ Fiber Optics News, September 24, 2001
One of his key targets was AT&T and John hit the ground running.
ALS was apparently quite impressed to see Cisco become an investor in Cerent and stated that level of involvement could help in opening doors within AT&T. Some of the ALS team members were also surprised to see Cisco as an investor since Cisco was supposedly coming out with their own optical transport solutions.
The larger AT&T organization itself, was, in the process of implementing major cost reduction programs and one of the main areas of cost savings involved moving, where possible, all DS3/DS1 circuits from the RBOC networks to the legacy TCG network, thereby eliminating the high cost of RBOC access charges. This shift in network utilization would provide substantial savings to AT&T in 1999. However, this program was eating up the legacy TCG's network capacity and infrastructure. And the existing legacy Lucent SONET gear was not very scalable. Many forklift upgrades were needed to migrate from OC-12 to OC-48 capacity, for example. To most observers within AT&T, Cerent appeared as telecom’s white knight in shining armor.
Lucent’s equipment shortcomings for metropolitan applications compelled ALS to review next generation platforms and hence plans were set in motion to issue a Request For Proposal (RFP) during the summer of 1999. That RFP would include requests for next generation transport and metropolitan DWDM systems.
During John Colvin’s presentation, ALS members fell in love with Cerent 454’s platform and architecture. ALS believed that the Cerent solution was taking the right direction and approach for their network evolution. High-density port cards, as Cerent proposed, were seen in a positive light, but, a battle was expected over the needed mindset change for the maintenance organizations.
Darryl Freeman believed that Cerent's main competitor would be the products Pipelinks was delivering and/or coming out with. Once again, it was expressed that Lucent's next generation systems were looked on negatively by ALS and seen as late to market. Nortel's systems were looked upon as “closed” systems, for example, they cited the fact that Nortel's optical transport system must only be used with Nortel's DWDM systems.
Targeting Metro Applications
Three months passed. Then, on June 16, 1999, John Colvin followed up with the AT&T Local Services (ALS) organization, once more, and received further validation of the Cerent 454 value proposition for metropolitan deployment. Ken Kuboosh shared that ALS was very focused on “Data Aware” platforms for all of their next generation products. The Cerent 454, with its planned data interfaces, qualified, and John captured AT&T’s requirements as follows:
1. Single platforms for voice and data (which fit nicely into Cerent’s view of the optimized SONET infrastructure to carry both voice and data traffic)
2. Eliminate the need for multiple and sub-tended boxes for offering functionality (an ability that Cerent offered with its multi-service interfaces for optics, voice, and data options)
3. Better efficiency at the edge of the networks (which Cerent provided in the ability of the Cerent 454 to switch traffic locally, obviating the need to deploy separate 3/1 cross-connects or Layer 2 Ethernet switches)
4. Optimum utilization of the transport bandwidth (a core feature of the Cerent 454 with its ability to efficiently pack traffic into STS or OC-n formats)
- Collocation applications
- Placement at the edge of their larger city networks
- A one-box, complete solution for their smaller cities
The earlier TCG architecture that ALS inherited, utilized centralized Alcatel and Tellabs cross-connects. ALS was experiencing massive expansion in their networks and they were forced to double all of their wideband cross-connect systems from Tellabs and Alcatel, which in turn rapidly consumed bandwidth across the optical infrastructure, just to switch the traffic. This approach was increasingly becoming too inefficient. To overcome this problem, ALS sought to move some of the cross-connect functionality out to the edge of the networks. ALS was very interested in the Cerent 454's ability to manage and groom VT1.5s with the second release (R2.0) of Cerent’s product.
- Economics: Saving capital expenditures (CAPEX) was very big within AT&T’s local network buildouts
- Collocation applications: Reduction of real estate was huge and high-density ports contribute to further space savings. A flexible architecture for TDM, ATM, and IP that Cerent offered, was a big benefit too.
- The ability to support DS1, DS3, OC-3, and OC-12 services with OC-48 rings was critical
- Cross-connect functionality, when used at the edge of the ALS network could help reduce port counts needed on wideband cross-connect systems (at those centralized cross-connect locations)
- “Data Aware” transport for future service offering as the ALS network evolved to become a next generation one
Prior to the Cerent 454, AT&T was offering OC-48c services to their customers but in an "Un-Restorable" or non-protected mode. Furthermore, OC-48c payloads were launched into AT&T’s DWDM systems in point-to-point applications across their backbone network. On top of that, a DWDM systems’ ability to support optical ring switching or OBLSR was not available. Finally, traditional OC-48 ADM systems from Lucent or NEC did not support the carriage of OC-48c payloads.
Cerent came to AT&T’s rescue with a “Restorable OC-48c service” capability. In the near-term, AT&T simply wanted “Restorable OC-48c Services,” where the concatenated payload could be guaranteed by AT&T. This simply meant that the OC-48c was “Ring Protected” for their customers. As John noted, “. . . this capability would allow AT&T to charge more for these services. AT&T had been looking into several ways of accomplishing this with other vendors, including: DWDM OBLSR (Not Available!); Hardware or Software modifications to existing transport ADM solutions (Not Available!); Geographically routed Working-Protect point-to-point solutions (Not Practical!); or Next Generation Transport solutions (the Best Solution and Cerent's Opportunity!)”
AT&T was utilizing Lucent and NEC's OC-48 ADMs, which did not support STS-48c through their systems. The highest STS granularity that these systems supported was STS-12c. As a result, AT&T looked into buying OC-192 systems for their network simply to get OC-48c carriage, but the cost of the technology was too expensive and did not economically prove in for them. The OC-48c service offering was the only application that AT&T could target for the proposed OC-192 systems. AT&T might have utilized Nortel as their supplier back then, but AT&T Core did not want to deploy very much of this new technology and preferred to utilize OC-48c over OC-48 rings.
John Colvin felt the best solution for AT&T’s needs was their preference for large rings – OC-48 4F-BLSR – as the topology of choice, but they would settle for OC-48 2F-UPSR to support them near-term. AT&T was extremely interested in the Cerent 454's ability to support this OC-48c carriage application and wanted to dig deeper into the product's architecture. AT&T would deploy the Cerent technology in ring topologies but they wanted to understand how many of these configurations could be supported in a single ‘454’ shelf.
Things were looking up as John continued to stoke the fires across many AT&T organizations – ALS and Core, in particular.
Three weeks later, on July 8, 1999, John Colvin discussed with AT&T’s Ken Duell, Member Technical Staff, Core Transport Evolution, in Middletown, New Jersey, the Cerent 454 and potential network opportunities within AT&T’s Core Networks.
Duell was assigned by Tom Afferton, AT&T District Manager, Core Transport Evolution , and Troy Adams, AT&T District Manager, SONET Transport Evolution, to further assess the Cerent 454 for two applications . Cerent’s product was positioned within AT&T as a technology and alternative solution for these two key applications:
- A low cost solution as an OC-48 aggregator of DS3, OC-3, and OC-12 interfaces. These systems would launch into higher-level restoration systems, a capability available in the first release of the Cerent 454. (Both Williams and QWEST had already chosen Cerent for this application.)
- A solution for carrying OC-48c restorable services, with restorable meaning “protected by ring technologies.”
In his communication, John Colvin said Cerent needed to cautiously proceed “because if we get the Core Networks team from AT&T truly turned on, then they could literally swallow Cerent up.”
A Third AT&T Application Identified
Cerent continued living off the high of its Supercomm buzz from early June and the momentum with customer orders only grew larger. On July 23, 1999, John Colvin and some colleagues met with an enthusiastic crowd of more than 30 members of AT&T’s Core Network organizations. The buzz was all about Cerent, especially after the company’s successful Supercomm launch and continued publicized wins. By now, John had hired Jeff Jacques (pronounced “Jakes”) to assist in staying on top of the overwhelming interest by AT&T. There was now a third identified application that could be immediately addressed by the Cerent 454:
- Role as an OC-48 Multiplexer of DS3, OC-3 and OC-12 interfaces (aggregator)
- Delivery of OC-48c restorable services over OC-48 rings
- Delivery of SDH services within the AT&T US domestic network; Cerent’s system could support the SDH version of optical traffic too.
To address item 3., Cerent subsequently informed AT&T in detail, “We plan to provide SDH support initially in Release 2.1: The currently available optics boards (OC-3, OC-12, OC-48) will then also support the comparable STM rates (STM-1, STM-4, STM-16). A given card will be software-provisionable for either SONET or SDH payloads. The SDH payload will be mapped onto an STSxc. This capability will eliminate the need for a separate SDH gateway element."
John added, "In Release 3.0, when the OC-192 card becomes available, it will support STM-64 – again, it will be software-provisionable for either SONET or SDH. SDH traffic is mapped onto the comparable STSxc. Through Release 3, the smallest granularity is STM-1. Our future plans include E1 granularity and VT2 cross connect management [in support of international traffic].”
John Colvin received some unofficial positive feedback on Cerent’s pricing information (Quotation No. JNC-071799-01) provided to AT&T on July 19th. He reported, “The pricing was said to have increased the overall interest in the Cerent 454 and caused further investigation by AT&T on whether the product was real or ‘vaporware.’ Overall, [today’s] meeting should be viewed as extremely successful and will generate further discussions, meetings and additional activities that will need to be resourced in order for Cerent to take it to the next step.”
Securing Resources and Executive Support
Certainly John was patient as he addressed each and every concern of the many AT&T stakeholders involved in choosing to switch vendors. Carl Russo, Cerent’s CEO, meanwhile, was being educated on the well-known multi-year sales cycle of engaging a Tier 1 service provider.
On August 4, 1999, both Jeff Jacques (Sales Manager) and Ralph Ramsey (Systems Engineer) were formally introduced by John Colvin to ALS in New York (Staten Island) as his expanded account management team. John was no longer a lone wolf and Cerent ramped up its customer-facing resources to attempt to secure AT&T orders. Jeff reported that the meeting went well and positive feedback was given in regard to the upstart startup’s plans for DWDM on the Cerent 454 and the new Cerent 327 product, the smaller version of the Cerent 454 targeted for customer premises.
This meeting foreshadowed the need for a scalable management system for deployed Cerent 454s. There was also an application brought up by AT&T for Cerent “to look at in regard to the need to aggregate telemetry at the co-locates nationally back to a central location. This would involve supporting a thousand plus IP network elements spread across a couple of hundred co-locates.” Later, the Cerent CTC would become the Cisco Transport Manager (CTM) to handle thousands of deployed network elements.
All of the work completed by John Colvin during 1999, positioned Cerent to enter the evaluation process at a number of AT&T laboratory locations. No one needed a crystal ball to see that Cerent and its mega-star product, the Cerent 454, would soon be part of the transformation of AT&T’s optical infrastructure, replacing Lucent as this Tier 1’s main supplier.
However, a crystal ball was needed to see that Cisco would swoop in three weeks later and acquire Cerent, much to the relief of AT&T executives who preferred to deal with vendors that were not startups. The courtship intensified as John Colvin left working on the AT&T account and Doug Juers assumed the mantle to make the sales breakthrough on behalf of Cisco.
 Ken Duell stuck with AT&T for his entire career to date. He migrated through the organization, from the role as a Member of Technical Staff through 2001, well after the Cerent 454 evaluations were completed, to a Director through 2014, to an Assistant Vice-President today.
His colleague, Tom Afferton, reported in 2012 that he joined the OIF Board of Directors, a consistent path with that of his early contributions to the transport evolution of the AT&T network. OIF was launched in April of 1998, just as Cerent was forming from the splinter of Fiberlane. OIF’s objective remains to foster the development of a low-cost and scalable Internet using optical technologies. Tom presented on behalf of the OIF, “It’s the only industry group bringing together professionals from the data and optical communities. It’s an open forum with 250+ member companies, including international players, carriers, component and systems vendors, and testing and software companies.” It’s Mission is to foster the development and deployment of interoperable products and services for data switching and routing using optical networking technologies. From the Cerent perspective, one can argue that the OIF continues the work Cerent-Cisco wrought with their data interface solutions on optical platforms.
 Troy Adams played a more direct role then his colleagues. He assessed the Cerent 454 for two pressing and specific applications across the AT&T network. Up until that point though, he developed a network architecture to support AT&T's local service market entry, culminating with a move to local network transport planning once the Telecom Act of 1996 was signed. Next, due to this regulatory relief, Troy led a team to establish AT&T's first entry into local consumer telephony markets. Then, in 1998, Troy joined the new product introduction team to find product solutions for this new market paradigm to enable large carriers like his to deliver local telephony services. He and his team of 10 systems engineers evaluated new products. As Troy writes, “I defined the program for the Multi Services Platform (MSP), selected vendors, assessed alternatives, developed contracts and managed vendor implementation of this program in the AT&T Transport Network. I reduced costs for these elements by more than 70 percent through the introduction of these technologies and features [and I reduced the] overall network budget in this area by over $50M.” One of these vendors was Cerent, and the widescale deployment of the Cerent 454 MSPP (as the Cisco ONS 15454) validates the startups’ claims in how great the CAPEX savings could be. Today, Troy works for Ciena.