Inverse Multiplexing ATM, Bit by Bit Robin D. Langdon

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1 Inverse Multiplexing ATM, Bit by Bit Robin D. Langdon Payoff In the time division multiplexing (TDM) environment, there are many applications that require greater than T1/E1 bandwidth, but where the jump to T3/E3 is not possible due to cost or availability of service. The technology to bridge the bandwidth gap between TDM and ATM WANs is known as inverse multiplexing, which allows multiple T1 or E1 lines to be aggregated to form a single multimegabit virtual or clear channel. Introduction Not long ago, the deployment of Asynchronous Transfer Mode was considered a wildfire market ATM would be available on the desktop, would be used in LAN backbones, and would provide transparent LAN-to-WAN interconnection at almost infinitely scalable bandwidths with all the benefits that classes of service could provide. However, the enthusiasm for ATM might be judged to be on the wane. Completely dismissing ATM would be premature. ATM might be having trouble competing with switched and fast Ethernet for the desktop, but it has firmly established a home in corporate and carrier backbones, where it is experiencing strong growth. On the access side of the public arena, however, ATM's migration into the WAN has been and is projected to be slow. Based on industry forecasts, ATM service revenues in the public network will remain relatively small when compared to alternative switched data network services such as frame relay. A new access option, inverse multiplexing over ATM, is becoming a reality for corporate users who want the benefits of ATM bandwidth but want to avoid the high costs of ATM service and implementation. ATM's Position in the Marketplace For end users and carriers, the real issue is what to do when the local network needs to expand to the enterprise network and runs into the bottleneck of the public WAN's access bandwidth. ATM outside the backbone and in the wide area is a possible solution, if ATM had a larger presence in the public network. ATM service is by no means ubiquitous, nor is it expected to become so in the next several years. ATM in the WAN may not even be available for those customers who need it or are willing to pay for it. Some network managers, even those running their corporate backbones at ATM's OC-3c rates, may not be able to justify the steep price tags (relative to access alternatives) or backhauling expenses associated with OC-3c or DS3WAN connections. Although T1 ATM prices are coming down to the point where they are equal to or less than the prices of traditional T1 lines (especially in areas where the carriers are trying to encourage users to experiment with ATM services), the bandwidth lost to ATM cell overhead and partially filled cells reduces the available bandwidth to the point where the inefficiencies of T1 ATM may be too high a burden for an application to bear. To complicate ATM's position in the marketplace, it is also faced with formidable competition from frame relay a service that has no cell overhead, is ubiquitous, is priced attractively, and has tremendous market momentum. Like ATM in the LAN, ATM in the WAN must compete against alternative technologies that are less expensive, readily available, or easier to use.

2 Inverse Multiplexing for ATM T1 inverse multiplexing, or imuxing, is a process in which a single data stream is split across multiple T1 lines in a round-robin fashion; the T1s are logically combined to form a single virtual data channel that is the aggregate of the T1 bandwidths (minus a small amount for overhead). From the point of view of the device providing the data stream, it is communicating via a single, high-speed WAN channel at some multiple of the T1 rate that is, at the bandwidth of a fractional T3 service, but using readily available, less expensive T1 services. The similarities between inverse multiplexing and ATM are significant when planning for current and future network implementations. ATM and inverse multiplexing topologies can both provide the ability to link individual sites by clear channel broadband data pipes. Both imuxing and ATM provide scalability, and both seamlessly link LANs and WANs in enterprise networks. Inverse multiplexing and ATM complement each other and can work together hand-in-hand. Where the rate of a traditional T1 is insufficient and T3 is too expensive or is unavailable, T1 inverse multiplexing is an efficient and immediate cost-effective solution to provide increased bandwidth. The concept of inverse multiplexing can be applied to ATM cells, where an ATM cell stream is transmitted across multiple T1/E1 links; alternatively, it can also allow ATM cell traffic to be transported across the existing T1/E1 network infrastructure as a bitstream. In either case, users avoid having to pay for the excessive bandwidth of a T3 or OC-3c line that they may not need. The customer also avoids the price, in dollars or bandwidth, of T1 ATM service. There are two variations of inverse multiplexing for ATM: cell-based and bit-based. Each has its own strengths, discussed at greater length in the following sections. Cell-Based ATM Inverse Multiplexing The very nature of public carrier networks demands a stable, standardized mechanism for transport. The ATM Forum's evolving standard for inverse multiplexing for ATM (IMA) will play a crucial role in the acceptance and implementation of ATM inverse multiplexing. IMA is a new user-to-network interface (UNI) being specified by the ATM Forum. The physical interface (PHY) committee of the ATM Forum defines standard mappings of ATM cells onto existing physical layer media; UNIs and PHYs are usually inseparable. In this case, the IMA UNI rides on top of existing T1 or E1 ATM PHY, performing inverse multiplexing via a cell-based control protocol, which is a major departure from the normal PHY definition. (See Exhibit 1.) Cell-Based Inverse Multiplexing for ATM (IMA) IMA is expected to be widely accepted in both the user and equipment vendor communities. Within the carriers' networks, IMA can be used instead of T1ATM for point-to-point trunking between frame relay/atm switches, greatly improving bandwidth without upgrading to DS3 or OC-3c. On the customer premises, the IMA specification promises vendor interoperability, giving users maximum flexibility in the equipment selection process. However, the definition of a specification is a long and painstaking process. The IMA specification is still being formulated. Once the standard is defined, the normal maturation process for a new technology will set in. Early adopters of IMA will have to accept a number of adjustments as new hardware, software, and protocols are rolled out.

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4 Those customers for whom the risk in cost and reliability of deploying a new technology is too high will have to wait until the dust settles. Multivendor, interoperable NxT1 ATM may take a while to become a reality. There are users who have network requirements that cannot wait either for stabilized IMA solutions or for high-speed ATM (i.e., DS3 and OC-3c) to become available or more cost-effective in the public network. They need solutions to their networking challenges sooner rather than later. Until the new IMA specification is finalized, they see themselves as having no stable means of interconnecting their ATM networks via inverse multiplexing. NxT1 ATM Inverse Multiplexing Clear Channel ATM An alternative to IMA allows users to take full advantage of inverse multiplexing's NxT1 (e.g., multiple independent T1 connections) bandwidth for their ATM networks. ATM cells can be inverse multiplexed bit-by-bit, meaning that ATM traffic can be transported transparently over traditional fractional T3/E3 and T1/E1circuit facilities. This technique is called clear channel ATM (CCA). Unlike IMA, clear channel ATM is a specification already approved by the ATM Forum. Clear channel ATM is another way of referring to the ATM Forum's transmission convergence sublayer (cell-based TC) specification, also known as ATM over HSSI (high speed serial interface). Cell-based TC specifies a standard format for transmitting cells over any clear-channel bitstream interface. In other words, ATM transports at the bit level, instead of at the cell level. Connectors, clocking, modem control, and status are not addressed by cell-based TC, but are defined by other standards. At the physical layer, V.35, HSSI, or any other type of connector that could accept the ATM bitstream can be used. What is defined by the cell-based TC specification is the bit order and how start-of-cell is determined; then, cells are simply placed bit-by-bit onto the transporting technology (see Exhibit 2). Clear Channel (Bit-by-Bit) ATM Inverse Multiplexing Clear channel ATM means that an ATM bitstream can be carried over any WAN data circuit, including inverse multiplexed data circuits. Having an HSSI port available for the traffic flow is not necessary; a V.35 port will do, and it is even possible to use an ATM DS3 or OC-3c UNI directly from an ATM switch. By using cell-based TC in conjunction with a readily available UNI(e.g., on an inverse multiplexer with a direct UNI connection to an ATM switch),the difficulties and long maturation created by the process of defining yet another UNI are eliminated. It usually takes time for a new user-to-network interface to migrate into customer premises equipment, appearing most often first in ATM switches, and then in other devices such as routers and network interface cards (NICs). There are no guarantees that a vendor will even choose to support it. In the ATM switch, a new UNI means that the switch must handle a new interface, address the conversion from one rate to another, and buffer cell traffic moving between old and new UNIs. Despite the UNI deployment taking place in the ATM switch, actual switching is not required in this instance. Because ATM switches tend to be expensive, the addition of a new UNI can mean interface upgrades and reconfigurations.

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6 Alternatives to Adding a New UNI The functions of a cell-based TC imux need not be deployed in a switch because only cell buffering and rate conversion are required. By leaving the switching functions where they belong in the ATM switch a more inexpensive and lower-risk solution can be deployed. In the case of clear channel ATM inverse multiplexing, a readily available ATM interface such as a DS3 or OC-3c becomes an ATM DTE port, which then transports the data stream via multiple T1 or E1 circuits. By converting the traffic from DS3 or OC3 to lower NxT1 rates, and by providing the necessary buffers, the need for a new UNI is eliminated. Clear channel ATM lets users keep their options open with regard to WAN access and ATM transport. They can use the DS3 and/or OC-3c UNI interfaces they have available on their backbone ATM switches without having to deploy a new UNI. Users do not even need to use an ATM switch. With a clear channel ATM inverse multiplexer, a single device such as a high-speed workstation or server equipped with an OC-3c or DS3 ATM NIC can connect directly into the CCA imux. Support for Non-ATM and Multimedia Traffic Network managers can build private networks and intranets between two or more sites with ATM backbones by using multiple, private line T1 or E1 WAN circuits in a virtual fractional T3 or E3 pipe. It is not necessary to make any changes to the backbone ATM switches that are being interconnected (see Exhibit 3). When they wish to upgrade to a different type of transport (i.e., IMA or higher-speed ATM), they can upgrade without changing their user UNI interface, thereby protecting their original ATM investment. Private Network/Corporate Intranet: Interconnecting ATM Site Backbones with NxT1/E1 TDM Service For those network environments where ATM is required for some, but not necessarily all, applications, clear channel ATM imuxing can be used to combine ATM traffic over the same fractional T3/E3 links used for non-atm traffic. In Exhibit 4, a channelized DS3 link in an M13 (multiplexer DS1 to DS3) network can support both traditional non-atm traffic (including imuxed router traffic and T1 tail circuits from a PBX), as well as specific multimedia applications being run over ATM. Users need not convert all of their WAN access connections to ATM to support what may be a relatively small set of applications; the ATM traffic can be transported transparently over NxT1 links within the channelized DS3that is used for other types of traffic. It is not an either/or scenario. Users do not have to cut over from TDM to ATM WAN access; they can have both at the same time, over facilities with which they are already familiar. NxT1/E1ATM access can be added incrementally, making the migration to ATM less expensive and less risky. Simultaneously Supporting TDM and ATM Traffic over M13 Service Compatibility and Cost Savings If a carrier is using inverse multiplexing to provide multimegabit-per-second frame services, clear channel ATM could be provided with the same equipment in the infrastructure. An ATM service can be offered using the existing transport technology.

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9 Other than adding inverse multiplexers that support clear channel ATM, the carrier's customers need not change their ATM backbone equipment. Neither does the carrier need to change its service facilities, nor retrain and retool to support a new inverse multiplexing technology. The carrier is using the same bit-based inverse multiplexing technology that it does for frame relay, the only difference being that the imux now has an ATM interface facing the customer premises, instead of the imux's customary HSSI or V.35 interface. Circuit provisioning is identical, requiring no retraining other than how to address the expected ATM protocol and interfacing issues. A carrier's ability to offer virtual ATM transport in the form of NxT1/E1 clear channel ATM imuxing allows it to serve more customers, particularly those who are not quite ready for high-speed DS3 or OC-3c ATM service. A clear channel ATM NxT1 link can provide significantly higher-speed access to a switched ATM service than single T1/E1 links, using readily available lines and without higher bandwidth's price tag. The UNI interfaces already deployed at the customer premises and within the service provider's cloud remain unchanged, and the carrier can now expand its ATM offerings to more than just those few customers in selected geographical areas that can access or afford DS3 and OC-3c bandwidth. Conclusion Using clear channel ATM inverse multiplexing does not preclude a user from upgrading to IMA when it is available or affordable, or to DS3 or OC-3c when the user's applications environment demands even greater bandwidth. A benefit of clear channel ATM inverse multiplexing is that both of the technologies that are combined into a solution a DS3 or OC-3c UNI, with bit-based NxT1/E1 multiplexing are readily available and well understood. Whether support for IMA is added to a clear channel ATM inverse multiplexer, or the inverse multiplexer is replaced by a higher-speed ATM access device, there is no need for the user or the carrier to restructure the network. Although it is still undetermined as to the ultimate role that ATM will play, it is clearly an important technology with significant benefits. It is also a technology that will exist in concert with the installed base of TDM WAN access devices for a long time. Clear channel ATM inverse multiplexing leverages both bit-based inverse multiplexing and ATM technologies, and is perhaps the best example of how simply and seamlessly ATM and TDM can coexist to the benefit of end users and carriers alike. Author Biographies Robin D. Langdon Robin D. Langdon is a senior product manager for broadband technology at Larscom Inc., in Santa Clara CA Larscom Technologies.

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