Cisco Beefs Up MPLS VPN Offering
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is taking on IP service creation boxes at the service provider edge. Today the company announced four technology enhancements to its IOS software, which will give its edge routers the added hooks to offer additional managed IP services (see Cisco Enhances MPLS VPNs).
“They are trying to provide more functionality with their MPLS VPN offering,” says Irwin Lazar, an analyst with the Burton Group. “And it will definitely make them more competitive with service creation platforms.”
This announcement is further proof that the line between edge router and service creation devices is blurring. Other edge routing companies like Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR), Unisphere Networks Inc., and Redback Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: RBAK) all offer basic Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) VPN support. While none is specifically offering all the same features Cisco has announced today, the trend toward layering on additional services to MPLS VPN functionality is underway (see Edge Routing Gets Service Friendly ).
On the other side of the coin, service creation boxes, like those from CoSine Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: COSN) and Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), have added routing protocols. For example, Nortel’s Shasta product has traditionally provided network-based VPNs using IPSec tunneling. Now the company has also added Layer 3 MPLS VPN functionality to the platform.
Cisco already supports basic Layer 2 and Layer 3 MPLS VPNs on its routers. This means that service providers can use its routers to provide managed MPLS VPN connectivity. But service providers want more than just pure connectivity. As a result, they are looking for gear that will allow them to differentiate their services and add managed services on top of basic connectivity.
”Technology enhancements can’t be made in a vacuum,” says Todd Hanson, a principal analyst with Gartner/Dataquest. "Service providers are making equipment decisions based on business case. With this announcement, Cisco seems to be bowing to that.”
Specifically, the new services offered are multicast, network address translation (NAT), on-demand address pools (ODAPs), and VPN Select. Cisco already offers address management services like NAT and OADP, along with multicast on its routers. What these enhancements do is allow service providers the ability to offer features as a managed service through a VPN, instead of just as a feature on a physical router.
Without the IOS enhancements, services would have to be replicated across all VPNs in order to connect customers. That approach is costly in terms of network resources and is complex to manage.
“I think it could finally give service providers the incentive they are looking for to deploy MPLS VPNs,” says Lazar. “I don’t think it will be the only reason, but it’s a nice bonus.”
What is important about adding these specific services? Specifically, native multicast allows VPNs to distribute high-volume information like multimedia, financial transactions, and telecommuting.
The enhancements to NAT extend address translation, allowing access to shared services from any VPN without losing connectivity. ODAP enables service providers to more effectively manage IP addresses across multiple VPNs. Cisco has also added support for broadband access with VPN Select, which allows remote users with high-speed links to connect to the corporate VPN regardless of their access providers.
The new IOS enhancements will first be available for the following Cisco routing platforms: Cisco 2600; 3600; 7200; 7500; 10,000; and GSR 12,000. The OADM and VPN Select features are available now. The NAT and multicast features are currently in field trials.
— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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