Optical/IP Networks

Session Controllers Walk the Runway

PARIS -- International SIP '04 -- Session border controllers. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. That's the message from some of the more vocal presenters and attendees at this year's International SIP '04 conference.

SIP (session initiation protocol) has come into fashion as a way to develop and deliver new multimedia services. Session border controllers use SIP to help connect IP networks and help manage the connection and security of connecting these services (see Session Controllers Kick Off). Companies working in this area have recently drawn attention by winning carrier deals and attracting investment (see Netrake Rakes In $20M Funding , Siemens Props Up Kagoor), NexTone in Tune With Cisco?, and NTT Picks Acme Packet SBCs).

But not everyone has to like them. Henry Sinnreich, a Distinguished Member of Engineering at MCI (Nasdaq: WCOEQ, MCWEQ), told attendees that they do have catches, including: lacking full security requirements; hogging bandwidth; delaying service development; and conflicting with some standards from the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

"They might block service development, as they might not be able to handle presence, instant messaging, video, and so on," says Sinnreich.

Sinnreich was not the only presenter to pick a fight with the session controller posse. Jiri Kuthan, director of engineering at SIP platform vendor and integrator Iptel.org, warned service providers to think carefully before deploying session controllers. "They are frequently built to act invisibly on the network. Trying to troubleshoot an invisible device is very difficult," he says.

Jim Hourihan, VP marketing and product management at Acme Packet, was philosophical about some of the general charges leveled at the vendors. "We're still learning about a lot of things as we work with the carriers," he concedes.

But executives from Netrake Corp. were more vocal. "It's a big misunderstanding," says VP of product management Micaela Giuhat. Referring to Sinnreich's suggestion that service creation might be slowed down by the deployment of session controllers, she says: "That's not the case, and I don't know what he's referring to. [Session controllers are] like any other element in a SIP network. It doesn't matter what the service is. It's not an issue."

Giuhat adds that Netrake is currently in trials with MCI following an RFP that requested specific session border functionality, saying that Sinnreich's concerns were just the opinion of "one individual."

While the debate bubbled up, at least one industry insider believes such disagreements might not be relevant in a few years time. A representative of the SIP Forum told Light Reading that the session border control vendors would probably only have two or three years in the market before the functionality of their products is incorporated into other network elements.

That’s being generous, say executives at Sonus Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SONS), which has already begun to incorporate this functionality into its softswitches and has an unnamed customer testing the product (see Sonus Takes Session Control).

Tekelec Inc. (Nasdaq: TKLC) is heading down the same path. It plans to announce session controller functionality for its softswitch and media gateway products “soon,” according to Rob Ennis, director of product marketing. “Carriers want fewer boxes to manage… Eventually this technology will be totally subsumed into softswitches unless the scale of peering warrants a separate high-capacity product, and that’s not happening any time soon,” Ennis says.

He adds that the company is in talks with MCI (along with Netrake, presumably), which is looking for border control functionality to peer with other carriers. “They don’t need to do thousands and thousands of concurrent VOIP calls right now; there just isn’t that much traffic,” he says.

Capriccio Martin, director of corporate communications at Netrake, argues that interconnecting networks is no small task. “It took the advent of session controllers to finally bring this to fruition… Put it on a media gateway or a softswitch, and you instantly strip away the functionality as the processing power is devoted to the softswitch,” she says.

It’s not clear to everyone, most notably Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), what to do with this technology. “We are considering both options -- internal development or partnering -- to offer session border control, and we'll be able to discuss our solution for this function at a later date,” says a Lucent spokesman.

Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) has partnership plans in the works but isn’t willing to discuss these yet. Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), meanwhile, is keeping very quiet, after acquiring session controller firm Aravox a year ago. The company recently told Light Reading it is still not ready to discuss its plans for this technology (see Alcatel to Acquire Aravox and Alcatel Buys Some VOIP Security). — Ray Le Maistre, International Editor, Boardwatch, and Jo Maitland, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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