This week, much of the product news revolved around equipment features designed to drive new data and security revenues for carriers. Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), CoSine Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: COSN), Network Equipment Technologies Inc. (net.com) (NYSE: NWK), Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), and Unisphere Networks Inc., all announced product enhancements that extend the Internet Protocol (IP) services offered on their boxes.
Past popular service buzzwords have included virtual private networks (VPNs), the first IP data services that many of these companies offered. But the equipment providers are building a range of additional features into their products, including content filtering, denial-of-service protection, and Web-based customer provisioning.
What’s interesting about most of these announcements is how similar they are. In general, the edge router vendors are starting to incorporate the services that were once pitched as a separate equipment class -- the so-called service delivery platforms. And companies with service delivery platforms, likewise, are announcing more routing features.
“The line between service platforms and edge routers is blurring,” says Michael Howard, founder and principal analyst with Infonetics Research Inc. “We used to break the market into three categories: edge routing, aggregation, and service delivery. Now we just have one.”
John Burnham, vice president of marketing at Unisphere Networks maintains that edge routers (such as Unisphere’s MRX and ERX, along with Cisco’s line of routers) have a better chance than the service-delivery platforms (such as Nortel’s Shasta and CoSine’s IPSX) because carriers have already deployed the former and they can simply layer services onto them.
But some of the service-creation players accuse the routers of mimicking their ideas.
“We find it very amusing,” says Bert Whyte, CEO of net.com, which does not offer VPNs, but has pushed the idea of service creation for the past year. “They’ve finally realized that VPNs are only a sliver of what can be offered from a service creation device. We welcome them all into our community."
Some analysts say there will be a place for both types of product in the market.
“Some carriers are going to want to add a blade for services into their big routers,” says Frank Dzubeck, president and CEO of Communications Network Architects. “But there are an awful lot out there that just want a smaller dedicated box for offering IP services.”
So who's doing what? Here is the rundown on the announcements:
- Cisco announced enhancements to its broadband aggregation routers including the 7200, 7400, and 10000 Internet Routers (see Cisco Unleashes News Deluge). It has added features like dynamic bandwidth selection (DBS), which allows end users to turn up services; service selection gateway (SSG), which enables carriers to provide customized and branded portals for end users; and per-user network-based firewall capabilities, which gives end users the ability to select different levels of firewall protection for individual family members or employees. The company has added an additional processor to the 7200 and 7400, to help improve the throughput performance on these devices. The 10000 already comes equipped with dual processors.
- Unisphere, another edge routing player, announced similar functionality with its new software-based product, the SDX (see Unisphere Shoots for Service Creation). It too offers enterprise users the ability to turn up new services and change existing services through a Web browser. But unlike Cisco’s implementation, Unisphere uses a protocol called COPs to communicate policies to routers. Cisco uses Radius, which Unisphere claims is a less optimal solution because it doesn’t maintain state on flows transmitted between the policy database and the routers. Cisco claims that this isn’t a problem, given that its routers maintain state of sessions.
- Nortel announced upgrades to its service platform, Shasta (see Nortel Offerings Enable VPNs). The company said that starting in September Shasta will be able to integrate third-party applications for firewall, content filtering, and antivirus protection. For the first time, these third-party software applications can be added to the box without introducing latency. It also added BGP-based Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) so that it can support Layer 3 MPLS VPNs, moving Shasta closer to the capabilities of an edge router.
- CoSine got its start as a network-based VPN platform. It then added firewall capability from Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: CHKP). This week the company announced that it is also adding denial-of-service protection to the platform (see CoSine's Fear Factor ). The IPSX already offered routing protocols (including BGP and OSPF) and MPLS VPNs.
- Net.com also announced product upgrades this week and made a push for its service creation community (see Vendors Hold Service Creation Love-In). The Scream platform is based on an Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) infrastructure and handles multiple types of traffic, including IP. Unlike the other vendors’ products mentioned here, net.com’s Scream platform doesn’t support MPLS nor does it support VPNs. This week at Supercomm, the company announced enhancements to the platform -- traffic management features that will allow carriers to guarantee bandwidth to enterprise and residential customers. It also announced ATM multicast for delivery of real-time video. And it added the OSPF routing protocol.