Cisco Unveils Optical Networking Software Tool

With the introduction of its Network Planning Tool solution, Cisco Systems Inc. ( hopes to give network administrators the tools they need to adequately plan and manage optical network implementations.

The new optical networking planning and assessment tool is based on a tool that was originally developed by optical networking pioneer Monterey Networks, which Cisco acquired in September 1999.

Cisco positions this product as a graphical planning tool that helps users of its Wavelength 15900 series routers stage a sequence of simulated what-if scenarios as a means to develop and refine prototypical optical network topologies. Cisco sources say the Network Planning Tool also will help customers handle the overall capacity and utilization levels of optical networks -- an important first step in establishing acceptable thresholds for service level agreements.

Cisco expects the Network Planning Tool to find its greatest level of acceptance among service providers, who typically use long-haul optical switches and routers in carrier-type implementations.

According to Cisco spokesman Jon Philips, wavelength-type routing architectures such as those built around the Cisco 15900 series require the use of sophisticated planning tools to ensure that an optical environment remains optimized, even in the midst of network expansion and other topological changes.

Accordingly, the Cisco Network Planning Tool lets users take a snapshot view of an existing network environment and compare it with a model of what that network might look like and with predictions of how it might behave in the aftermath of various changes, adjustments, or hardware failures.

Network administrators can also choose to create models that take into account high-availability features, such as network load balancing. The Network Planning Tool is capable of modeling failure scenarios, as well, by simulating cuts in optical links and by predicting the resulting network behavior.

Perhaps most significantly, Cisco representatives say the tool can help network administrators determine the equipment resources that they will need to address their specific network growth requirements -- down to the port-level.

Network Planning Tool is geared toward large, carrier-type service providers, but John Adler, director of marketing for Cisco’s core optical transport unit, says that optical networking technologies -- and the planning problems and issues that necessarily accompany them -- are trickling down to large enterprise environments, as well.

"[Optical networking] started as a simple application of creating more wavelengths with more fiber in the ground, and the economics worked out that it was more efficient to do that in long-haul implementations," Adler acknowledges. "But what we see happening is that the waves are starting to move out into the middle of the network, and this technology is trickling down."

Sam Alunni, president of enterprise and Internet infrastructure at Sterling Research (, says optical networking technologies are increasingly cropping up in Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) implementations. As optical networks trickle down and become increasingly more prevalent in conventional networks, Alunni reasons, the corresponding need for optical networking planning and management tools will become more critical.

Greg Berthold, a network analyst at Pennsylvania State University’s ( office of business services, says a tool like Cisco’s Network Planning Tool makes a great deal of sense, although he agrees that because of its service-provider pedigree, it’s probably excessive for most conventional enterprise environments.

"For any kind of high-speed connection, you’re always looking out for potential bottlenecks that might occur and how your bandwidth is going to be utilized. Those are always your biggest concerns, especially with something as new as optical technologies," he points out.

According to Berthold, a tool such as Cisco's Network Planning Tool might be useful as a means to help identify potential network bottlenecks in the planning stages -- always a tricky endeavor when mixed fiber and conventional networking topologies are involved.

"When optical impulses get converted to an electrical signal -- as must happen whenever you cross from a fiber topology to a more conventional network topology -- that’s where you’re going to have the most corruption taking place," he explains. "That’s also where it’s going to be hardest to determine what kind of bottlenecks you’re going to experience."