Service creation switches speed IP services
Start-ups are vying with big network vendors to offer comprehensive service creation platforms, a new class of edge switch/router that supports network-based, broadband IP services including firewalling and VPNs.
Taking a step beyond the initial offerings in this area that essentially aggregated broadband traffic at the edge of service provider networks, the latest products add quality-of-service (QoS) capabilities and applications such as content filtering.
As enterprise execs are comfortable today buying a frame relay or ATM service from a service provider, they will someday be comfortable buying IP-based services such as VPNs built with these new service creation platforms, says Ron Westfall, a senior analyst with Current Analysis.
"[VPN] tunneling is already outsourced to companies like Genuity, and these services allow a tighter coupling of subscriber management with content management," he says.
These platforms offer the promise of users being able to add and drop services themselves, reducing the time it takes to fill orders and make changes, he says.
Leaders in this field include Lucent and Nortel Networks as well as a host of start-ups such as Celox, Cosine, Net.com, Quarry and Unisphere. Service providers, including AT&T Wireless for residential wireless access, and Qwest Communications are using it to support VPN services.
These devices provide subscriber management in the form of user profiles and track use of the services for billing. They typically take in customer traffic over a variety of interfaces, including Ethernet, time-division multiplexing, SONET, ATM and frame relay. They also support Multi-protocol Label Switching for traffic shaping as well as software interfaces to separate operational support systems and billing systems.
Already these hardware vendors are scaling down the size of their equipment for installation in smaller carrier points of presence and letting service providers buy into the technology with a smaller outlay (Vendors scale down IP service switches).
The renamed and refocused Net.com is introducing two new members of its Service Creation Manager (SCREAM) family, the SCREAM50 and SCREAM100. With a 40G bit/ sec backplane, SCREAM100 supports 250,000 simultaneous users sessions. This is less than the touted capacity of upstart competitor Celox, which promises to support six million users on an 80G bit/sec backplane.
Net.com and Celox are expected to ship their gear later this year, while others, including Nortel, Lucent and Cosine, have their gear running in providers' networks.
All the vendors credit Redback Networks with being the pioneer in this area, but say their products can support many more connections than Redback's Subscriber Management System products.
"Redback has been left behind technologically," Westfall says. With last year's purchase of Siara Systems, Redback seems to be more focused on optical access, he says.
Even as carriers reduce their capital expenditures, the market for IP service creation platforms willl grow beyond the $200 million in revenue of last year. And firms should see more services based on these boxes, Westfall predicts.
"The bottom line is the expenditures will go up even during this slowdown. This technology is being sold into major accounts," he says.