Huawei Unveils God Box
The Chinese vendor is positioning the ME60 as a panacea for numerous IP network problems related to service quality and security. It's an edge router that sits between the IP core and the access network (fixed or mobile) that integrates the capabilities currently found in a B-RAS, a session border controller, a firewall, and a deep packet inspection product.
This, says Huawei, allows a carrier to manage and provision IP and traditional voice and data services, and provide security on a per-customer basis, from the same platform.
"As IP becomes the basis of the next generation of telecom infrastructure, quality of service, security, reliability, and manageability are becoming more and more important in IP networks," says Patrick Wen, VP of Huawei's European operations. "Carriers need intellectualized control at the edge of the IP core to support IP services in their next generation and 3G mobile networks. This gateway provides integrated user management, service control, and security control, features currently found in different products."
Tu Yao, chief engineer at Huawei's data product marketing department, notes that current IP networks don't offer the security and QOS that operators need to be able to offer their customers, while traditional networks aren't capable of supporting bandwidth-hungry multimedia services such as IPTV. "We are bringing the two worlds together with the IP telecom network," he asserts.
Yao says the ME60's capabilities will allow carriers to target security-conscious enterprise customers concerned about their staff accessing corporate data across multiple IP networks that can't guarantee total security.
"There's no standard way for firewalls, which hold customer security details, and B-RASs to communicate and combine their functions, which can cause problems," especially if customers are traveling and trying to connect to their VPNs from different locations and through different access methods.
The ME60 overcomes this issue, he claims, because its single software system is interrogating and acting on the user authentication and security policies held on a central database, allowing the firewall capabilities to be provisioned on a per-subscriber basis.
In addition, having a centralized customer policy database means that each ME60 in the network acts on the same customer data, which means end users experience the same level of access and security no matter how they connect to the network, or from where.
And, as ever, Huawei is keen to stress the cost implications. The company says that because the ME60 provides multiple functions in a single product, it offers greater operational efficiency, eliminates interoperability issues, and reduces capital expenditure. The new product comes in two sizes: the ME60-16, a 16-slot box about 2 meters high with 640 Gbit/s of switching capacity, and the ME60-8, which houses eight linecards and boasts 320 Gbit/s of switching capacity. Both models have multiple interfaces that support Ethernet (10 GigE and 1 GigE), TDM, Frame Relay, and ATM traffic over connections ranging from OC192/STM64 to DS3/E3.
Huawei spokesman Richard Lee says the product has been "tailor made for carriers," following discussions with BT Group plc and French operator Neuf Telecom. "This product has been developed quickly and in response to carrier needs with our low-cost development capabilities," he says (see Huawei Picked for BT's 21CN and Neuf: Time Is Right for IPTV).
But is combining so many functions in one product too ambitious? A few years ago, such "God boxes" fell out of favor (see God is Dead). But Heavy Reading analyst at large Graham Beniston believes the move makes sense for Huawei and its customers: "This combination will appeal to carriers. Look at the multiple capabilities BT wanted in its 21CN metro node -- it will want to get a broad range of capabilities into as few boxes as possible." (See BT Names 21CN Suppliers and BT's 21CN: Metro Partners Under Wraps .)
But Beniston adds that only a select group of vendors could deliver on the promises of such a product. "Carriers wouldn't buy this type of product from a vendor that doesn't have basic telephony experience, which Huawei clearly has. Siemens Communications and Juniper together could probably deliver such a product, as could Lucent or Nortel."
He adds that Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) could also manage it if it had a B-RAS, while Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) would need to team up with a partner such as Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERICY).
Huawei isn't saying whether BT is one of the carriers currently trialing the product but is bold enough to predict that contracts will be signed for the ME60 during the second half of this year.
And until the product is up and running in carrier networks, it's too early to say whether the ME60 can deliver on its promises. "It certainly appears to be a breakthough product, and it's important that Huawei has developed this in response to carriers' specific needs, but it's still too early to tell" what sort of impact the product will have on the market, says Chris Barnard, a European telecom analyst at IDC, who attended the launch in Paris.
— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading