Appian Teeters On the Edge

Do one thing -- and do it well. That's the design philosophy underlying the Optical Services Activation Platform (OSAP) 4800 from Appian Communications http://www.appiancom.com. The product is designed specifically for placement in multi-tenant buildings and office parks.

Finally, a vendor that doesn't claim to be all things to all service providers. It makes a refreshing change. Most of the companies now developing products for the metro market claim their devices can do it all -- from aggregating disparate edge traffic on the customer premises, to sporting high capacity links in COs (central offices), POPs (points of presence), or even mega-POPs (see Sonet Goes POP).

Appian, on the other hand, says that by keeping its eyes on the customer premises prize, it's been able to develop a slew of features that set it apart from the competition -- including 'burst mode' data services, and standards-based LAN services.

For all that Appian has a different spin on the metro market, it's worth noting that it is still trying to solve the same fundamental problem as its competitors. Namely, how to groom traffic onto metro optical networks more efficiently. Traditional Sonet equipment isn't good at doing this, because it's based on multiplexing technology that is designed to handle voice traffic. This means that carriers have to cram data streams into rigid channels. The slowest channel, VT-1.5, runs at 1.7 Mbit/s. The next increment, STS-1, jumps to 51.84 Mbit/s. And unused capacity in those channels is wasted.

The OSAP 4800 gets around this problem by using Ethernet to add statistical multiplexing capabilities to Sonet. It's certainly not alone in doing that. Many of Appian's competitors are now offering similar solutions -- including Cisco Systems Inc. http://www.cisco.com, via the product it acquired when it bought Cerent.

So what is different about the OSAP 4800? "One of our biggest differentiators is the ability to allocate a guaranteed share of the Sonet connection to different customers, while also supporting burst mode," says Mick Scully, president, CEO and founder of Appian. Specifically, the device allows service providers to divide available bandwidth between the customer premise and the CO or POP into guranteed increments -- of 64 kbit/s up to 1 Gbit/s -- and allocate them to different users. Beyond that, 'burst mode' borrows from frame relay technology to allow users access to more bandwidth than the minimum, when it's available -- thus increasing overall throughput and performance.

Appian says that the fact that it doesn't sell products for the metro core also has forced it to put a greater emphasis on interoperability with equipment from other vendors'. One way in which it does this is by using either standard MLPPP or multi-link frame relay to aggregate different Sonet channels together for use in delivering transparent LAN services -- rather than a proprietary approach. Appian says the product will interwork with a variety of third-party devices installed in the CO or POP. "We can talk to a router from Cisco or Juniper, or we could talk to a switch from Astral Point, Sycamore, or ONI," says Scully. Still, with optical networking in its infancy, and public tests months or years away, many observers question whether interoperability will be as easy as Appian makes out (see Crunch Time for Signaling Standard ).

Appian will also face stiff competition from vendors like Alidian Networks Inc. http://www.alidian.com, which announced two separate products last week built on the same architecture that can be used either in the access network or in the metro area core. The OSN 4100/4200 competes with Appian's OSAP 4800 product at the customer site while Alidian's OSN 4800, which comes equipped with DWDM, is designed for a large central office or POP to aggregate traffic coming from several smaller central offices and customer sites.

The OSAP 4800 and the AppianVista Services and Element Manager, which provides remote service provisioning and QOS, is expected to go into beta this summer. Pricing will start at $25,000.

--Marguerite Reardon, senior editor, Light Reading


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