IP Infusion Serves Up BGP
No, IP Infusion isn't doing something like, say, building its own server that could compete with key partners. But its idea for a Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) route server, announced today, is being pitched as a way to save money on pricey router ports.
The feature comes with version 7.7 of IP Infusion's ZebOS protocol stack. Other new tidbits in the release include support for Provider Backbone Bridge - Traffic Engineering (PBB-TE, also called PBT) and pseudowire support within Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS). (See IP Infusion Adds PBB-TE.) BGP is the routing protocol behind the Internet; routers use it to decide where to send packets. The BGP stack is a central part of ZebOS.
The BGP route server is a centralized route-computing engine that's tapped by routers around the network. Typically, that function gets housed in a high-end router. With the new version of ZebOS being released today, IP Infusion wants to run the route server on a plain, off-the-shelf blade server.
This doesn't mean IP Infusion is trying to replace routing. The forwarding of packets would still be handled by routers. But the route servers wouldn't need to occupy router slots.
It might seem like a small step, but it's one that service providers want to see, says Koichi Narasaki, CEO of IP Infusion and, now, chief strategy officer for parent company Access Co. Ltd. (See Access Acquires IP Infusion and Access Co. Names Execs.)
"Several carriers have approached us saying they're extremely interested in something like a 'soft' router," Narasaki says. "I can't say any names, but huge Tier 1s are interested in that. If they told that story to their OEMs, they would hate it."
What's making the idea possible is the advancement in technology for blade servers -- the increased memory and computing power, and the feasibility of 40-Gbit/s ports.
"All the ingredients are there, so as chefs, we would like to explore that cuisine for the carrier," Narasaki says.
(Incidentally, this doesn't appear to be Cisco's motivation for wanting to get into the server market; Cisco seems more interested in data-center virtualization.)
Route servers are a control-plane element, so IP Infusion's idea resembles the way Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) has separated the control plane into a box called the Juniper Control System (JCS) 1200. (See Juniper Splits Out Its Control Plane and Juniper Divvies Up the Core.)
Deb Mielke, principal analyst with Treillage Network Strategies Inc. , points out that, while the idea is new, it's not necessarily so radical. Routers now accommodate different types of processing cards. Zeugma Systems Inc. even built a router that can be loaded with more computing cards than routing cards. (See Zeugma Rethinks Edge Routing.)
"If you really think about how a CRS-1 [Cisco's core router] is constructed, it's basically a blade server for the network," she says.
But that brings up a question: Would you really do this just to save a slot on, say, a CRS-1? "There has to be a more specific application. I would see it as more for Internet exchange points" than for the general network, Mielke says.
Mielke, who was hearing IP Infusion's idea for the first time when interviewed by Light Reading, has a hunch that some carriers will have trouble with the idea of a server helping out with routing.
"The guys that buy servers are not the guys that buy the network," Mielke says. "The biggest challenge is going to be more of an organizational one than a technological one."
On top of that, the introduction of a server into the router network means one more type of box to maintain and keep spares for. And servers don't have the reputation of being telecom-hardened. "When you look at any server, you get into the reliability thing. I'm relying on one device," Mielke says.
— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading