Launched in October, the Infranet has become a big part of Juniper's corporate message -- big enough that CEO Scott Kriens took time to expound on it during Tuesday's earnings call (see Juniper Does Vision Thing and Juniper Surprises With Q2). So what exactly is it, you ask? Good question.
The end goal is to create standards that will ensure QOS (quality of service) and security for connections across public networks, primarily the Internet. This would make the network "smarter," so that it could differentiate among applications: If a user were to request, say, a video download, the network would automatically deliver the appropriate bandwidth and prioritization for that service and for the user's device.
"This is what will be required industrywide for us all to deliver on users' expectations," Kriens told analysts on Tuesday's conference call.
Like free ice cream for everybody, the idea sounds great but won't be easy to pull off. One key will be to standardize the interfaces between carrier networks, as well as the interfaces service providers use for client interfaces. Exactly how Juniper will get these ideas to the standards phase -- or even which standards bodies would be appropriate -- is unclear.
But first things first. Juniper at least has amassed carrier backing for the idea, as Kriens emphasized.
Carriers sitting on Juniper's Infranet Initiative Council now include BT Group plc (NYSE: BTY; London: BTA), China Unicom Ltd., Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), NTT Communications Corp., Orange SA (London/Paris: OGE), Qwest Communications International Inc. (NYSE: Q), and Telenor ASA (Nasdaq: TELN).
The Council includes big names in other tech sectors as well: America Online Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL), and Polycom Inc. On the networking hardware side, though, the only council members other than Juniper are LM Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERICY) and Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), both of which are already partners with Juniper (see Lucent Partners With Juniper).
Of course, one prominent voice is missing -- Cisco, whose routers still hold majority rule in the networking world. "There have been conversations with Cisco about joining, and I believe at this point they're not going to join," says Paula Reinman, director of marketing at Juniper. "But Cisco is pretty well represented, because all those carriers use Cisco and Juniper equipment."
Still, some believe the Cisco imprimatur will be necessary for the Infranet to fly.
"Without Cisco joining, it ain't gonna happen, no matter what. Ninety percent of the edge routers are Cisco routers, and this is going to require changes all the way to the edge," says an executive with one equipment vendor (no, not Cisco). The executive suspects Juniper is using the Infranet to initiate a change in networks to create "an opportunity to sell more boxes" -- a marketing stunt, in other words.
Others find the idea intriguing. Caspian Networks Inc. hasn't been invited onto the Council but plans to attend meetings to keep up with progress. "There's always a risk something like this is just posturing, but there's an equal chance it could accomplish something," says Dallas Kachan, Caspian's director of marketing.
The Infranet is nebulous and a long way off, but a plan is forming. The council met last month, on the day before Supercomm in Chicago, to hammer out a reference architecture that divides the network into four layers:
- Applications -- software, such as Oracle
- Devices -- cell phones, PDAs, etc.
- Network processing -- the area where Juniper would contribute
Despite the carrier support, getting representatives of these different layers together remains a challenge. IBM and Oracle can certainly help on the software side, but what about those pesky devices, which will need to speak Infranet in order to make this work? Only HP would fit in that category, although Juniper is contacting some others, says Paula Reinman, director of marketing at Juniper.
The next step will be to develop some case studies exemplifying the Infranet's requirements, examples being an Inter Carrier Interface and a Carrier Network Interface (see Pradeep Sindhu, Juniper Networks). Eventually, the council will submit proposals to the appropriate standards bodies. A timeframe for this step hasn't been set, Reinman says.
The next meeting of the Infranet Initiative Council hasn't been set but is likely to happen during the fourth quarter, according to Reinman.
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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