Technology, cost, and customer interest are converging to make application-aware network services a viable and popular option, according to one long-time backer of such services -- Kamran Sistanizadeh, CTO of Reliance Globalcom.
But there are key industry-standard technologies that must be deployed to support end-to-end delivery of an application-aware service on a global basis, he says.
"I have been talking about this for almost 15 years now," says Sistanizadeh, who will be a panelist at Light Reading's Ethernet Expo Europe 2010
in April. (See Ethernet Europe Lineup Announced.)
"I would say within the next nine to 18 months, there will be an upsurge of demand on application awareness in the sense that providers like us of Layer 2 and Layer 3 service offerings have to be able to differentiate applications and prioritize them on a global basis," he says.
The goal is to give multinational corporations the ability to control headquarters and branch office connections from a centralized point, regardless of the means of access, and deliver a consistent performance of applications over that end-to-end network, Sistanizadeh says.
"This is very different from what we used to do on a metro basis," he says. "It requires understanding applications on a global basis and insuring, for example, that a branch office in Asia talking to a main headquarters in Seattle is in synch with different Citrix applications or Exchange applications -- or any kind of CRM [customer relationship management] or ERP [enterprise resource planning] applications."
Reliance Globalcom is doing this today with some customers, although not yet at scale. While declining to name vendors, Sistanizadeh says RG's application awareness platform combines technologies such as Deep Packet Inspection with network optimization, both in software and in appliances, to create a platform for global connectivity and application optimization.
"What is very important is that it is not just the network provider's view, but also the customer's view via a dashboard that operates in real time," he said. "You can define what the real time means separately, but that can allow the customer to manage applications and to view the application SLAs [service level agreements] based on the contract that he has with the service provider."
The application-aware platform takes into account any form of access from DSL up through native Ethernet interfaces and optical access, to accommodate different technologies in use in different countries, and mask the complexities of managing compression, acceleration, and prioritization in a single bundled service package, according to Sistanizadeh.
Reliance Globalcom is offering its dashboard to customers today, often initially selling the service for limited deployment in a headquarters and a sample set of branch offices. In that way, the capabilities of the service can be proved before they go corporation-wide.
"Once they feel comfortable, then on a graduated basis, we roll it out to other locations," Sistanizadeh said
That comfort level includes getting the configuration management of the specific applications aligned with the business needs so the customer's dashboard can accurately reflect business priorities, Sistanizadeh said.
Interfacing for the future
One major challenge to delivering application-aware networks is the need to have external network-to-network interfaces that enable service providers to offer application awareness on an end-to-end basis, recognizing that no single network goes everywhere in the world and there is always need to buy terminating facilities from other service providers.
While the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) and the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) have worked to develop standards, deployment varies from equipment vendor to equipment vendor, and therefore from service provider to service provider.
"When you are connecting two networks together, we need to make sure that configuration management, provisioning, isolation of trouble, surveillance... are standard at the operational level, that we have a common view across these clouds, so to speak," Sistanizadeh says. "If we can do that on a global basis with service providers that are our partners, then we can do this end-to-end management of application in a seamless manner."
The industry's challenge is to see how quickly standards can be adopted and implemented to bring those capabilities to customers, he adds.
"So if we can do ENNI in a global manner and adopt more resilient feature functionality across the networks, I would say that would solve probably 80 percent of the problems," Sistanizadeh says. "In general, the industry has embraced that [idea], but it may be 12 to 18 months before we see that happen."
Service providers would then differentiate based on service delivery, service management, and the intelligence they deliver at the end points, he adds.
In general, Reliance Globalcom is happy with what its vendors are delivering today, recognizing that there is "an iterative process" for adding functionality through which a service provider and its vendors must work, Sistanizadeh says.
He admits, however, that consolidation within the vendor community and the tighter economy have led to less innovation in the networking industry than existed at the height of the telecom bubble, in the late '90s, when Sistanizadeh co-founded Yipes! and brought Gigabit Ethernet to the market. (See Reliance Bags Yipes for $300M.)
Both today's era and that of the telecom boom have their pros and cons, he says. There was greater innovation happening much faster in those days, Sistanizadeh says, but more "scalability, robustness resiliency as well as consistency across suppliers" today.
â€” Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading