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November 1, 2003
Tried & True
Frame Relay Still in Demand
By Tara Seals
Though not as flashy as metro Ethernet
and IP VPNs, frame relay is holding its own in the wide area networking arena.
Resellers will find spots of interest from a variety of end user demographic
ranges, and carriers are rolling out new enhancements and features to keep the
service a hot ticket.
Frame relay, which first hit the scene in 1991, still meets
many end users WAN needs 12 years later. In fact, analyst firm Vertical
Systems Group expects the worldwide market opportunity for frame relay to grow
from $15 billion last year to more than $21 billion in 2004.
American Telesis Inc., which operates its own frame network
and resells services from partners such as WiTel Communications Group to fill in
the gaps, specializes in private line and frame relay. Theres still a big
market for sub-T1, 56K local access, says John Ealy, vice president of
business development at American Telesis. We target regional banks, retail
and restaurant chains, insurance companies and hotels anyone that does
periodic, lowlevel activity like payroll or point of sale data. He adds quote requests are on the rise.
Were not seeing a huge migration off the frame, says
Danielle Young, manager of global VPN and data services at MCI. I think frame
relay has always had a very strong hold in a lot of the older legacy
applications, like SNA. Large manufacturing centers are still using the
mainframes, thats the way the data has been programmed.
MCI, which does not offer a private-label option, has two
bundles geared to VARs and resellers. Business Solutions Frame Relay gives
discounts on access, port and permanent virtual circuits (PVCs), combined with
near realtime monitoring and reporting via the MCI Customer Center and a
discount on any required customer premises equipment (CPE) rented through the
MCI Certified CPE Catalog. Business Solutions Managed Frame Relay adds in
network performance management capabilities provided by MCIs Frame Relay
Platinum service, supported by Visual Network CSUs/DSUs, such as enhanced
proactive notification and Circuit View reporting. This provides real-time
monitoring and reporting via the MCI Customer Center.
Bundles are becoming more common in the wholesale market. From
a carrier perspective, one of our biggest hurdles was making frame relay easy
enough for them to sell on their own, says Jamey Heinze, director of data
services at Broadwing Inc. Frame Connect is a great way for people to
repackage frame relay and right out of the gate with bundles that are in place,
pricing that is totally easy, not a lot of sliding scales or configuring to be
Broadwing, which launched frame relay in 1997 to carriers and
now targets resellers, wireless companies, ILECs, RBOCs, cable MSOs and others,
says Frame Connect is meant to be an easy to sell, easy to buy, cookie-cutter
topography, says Jamey Heinze. The offer includes two host sites and 28 remote
sites. A PVC links each remote to each of the hosts for built-in
disaster recovery or regional networking. Its a flat rate for whatever
speed they select, and they dont have to get in really deep to the granular,
daunting task of configuring their network, he says. They buy the bundle.
Despite the legacy uses, for the most part, about 75 percent
of customers frame-relay bandwidth is used for IP applications, says research
firm Vertical Systems Group, suggesting that customers are interested in
adapting what they have rather than replacing it.
Its important that as technology evolves, customers are
not going to want to forklift out a piece of CPE at every single one of their
sites and completely replace it with a new network, says Gina Nomellini,
senior product manager for frame relay at Broadwing Inc. I think the carriers
that are going to be most successful in that space are going to be those that
will take into account their customers that are on Layer 2 today and find a
cost-effective method to lower their local access costs and give them more
functionality. If that means giving them local access loops, integrating an
Ethernet functionality, thats where youre going to be successful. I think
carriers are going to have a harder time taking a frame relay customer and try
to fit them into a whole new VPN model.
To that end, MCI for instance launched Advantage, which allows
voiceover applications with SIP on frame relay. Also, MCI has launched a
network- based IP VPN remote access solution to connect telecommuters, branch
offices and traveling workers to corporate networks via the Internet. The managed offering is designed to extend the life and
capabilities of an organizations corporate network, and targets those wanting
to migrate to an IP-based environment using their existing frame relay, ATM,
private IP and IP VPN networks thus optimizing a customers network
assets and shielding them from technology obsolescence, says Ron McMurtrie, MCI vice president of global marketing.
Similarly, New Edge Networks Inc., which supports wholesalers
and rebillers, is pushing frame over DSL (FoDSL) to target companies that are
looking to reduce costs but require better throughput. Frame over DSL is
about 50 percent of the cost of frame and can give you a performance boost in
terms of speed of three times what youre getting, says Dan Moffat,
president and CEO of New Edge Networks Inc. So if someone has a 56K frame
network, and theyre paying $300 to $400 per node, we can offer them frame
over DSL and they can get 192K symmetrical at $150 a node. Thats very
compelling for people who want to take costs out of their frame network.
There are some trade-offs, however. FoDSL carries a 24-hour
SLA, says Moffat, while classic frame is four hours, making FoDSL appropriate
only in certain environments.
If youre doing a mission-critical application with an
automatic teller machine, a 24- hour SLA may not be appropriate, explains
Moffat. But if youre doing credit- card validation for a retail
application, and you can live with the 24 hours and maybe have an interim
dial-up solution, just to keep business going, then thats fine.
Moffat says FoDSL allows new business to flow, too. A lot
of people who couldnt afford to pay $300 or $400 a location may be able to
afford $100 to $150 per location, so theres a whole new set of people coming
into business networking for the first time, he says. The ability to flow
information between locations, to have common corporate e-mail and inventory
practices, common pricing and credit-card verification, these are all things
that a retail establishment is very interested in and they get a real advantage
when they have a common network.
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