Software Boost for Broadband?
When it comes to managed Internet Protocol (IP) services, the PowerPoint slides roll, and talk is cheap. Telecom service providers have long heralded Internet IP-based services like virtual private networks (VPNs) as creating new revenue streams that will dig them out of the telecom depression.
So far, few companies have addressed the software issues involved in making these services work. This week, startups Atreus Systems Inc. and SmartPipes Inc. shed light on what's required.
Atreus today unveiled the latest version of its software, dubbed xAuthority 2.3, a software design to help carriers automate orders for VPN, firewall, and IP messaging services and to activate them on existing facilities.
Atreus calls what it's doing "service fulfillment software." This unfortunate term is common telco parlance for programs that stitch together the processes of assigning multiple users, sometimes from the same company, to services that offer individualized features for each one over the same broadband connection.
[Ed. note: Speaking of unfortunate terms, it was the ancient Greek Atreus who fricasseed his nephews and served them to their own father. Talk about "service fulfillment."] For instance, carriers can use xAuthority interfaces to enter specific orders for IP-based VPN or messaging services. The carrier enters the name of the user and the type of service and authentication requested. The software contacts the network device (switch or router) to activate the service for the user. The package also sends the user's profile and associated data to the carrier's billing system and keeps that info updated.
Atreus, founded in 1999 by executives from CrossKeys Systems Corp. and Cambrian Systems (now part of Nortel Networks Corp. [NYSE/Toronto: NT]), says it uses specially designed workflow and directory management software to make all of this happen.
It's important to note that Atreus doesn't do the same job as so-called service-aware switches (see The Service-Aware Switch), which have substantial packet processing capabilities and can perform the necessary classification, queuing, shaping, and policing of flows to give operators the opportunity to build enhanced IP services. Instead, Atreus software is meant to direct these switches, giving them the information to look for in setting up their services. It also works with routers, firewalls, and messaging systems.
Right now, Atreus xAuthority works with the Cisco Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: CSCO) 3600 routers; Nortel's Contivity VPN gear and Shasta switches; VPN products from Efficient Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EFNT), Netopia Inc., and NetScreen Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: NSCN); and firewalls from Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: CHKP) and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK).
A range of other equipment -- including SAN management gear from Yotta Yotta Inc. and the SpringTide platform from Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) -- are on the drawing board for delivery in mid to late summer 2002, Atreus says.
A lot of the interactions between Atreus's workflow engine and the various databases and devices in a carrier's network must be tailor-made, resulting in a starting price of about $1 million. As high as that is, it's on a par with most operations support systems (OSS), the software that coordinates and manages carrier services.
Like other OSS vendors, Atreus is aiming its software mainly at ILECs, and it's keenly interested in the patronage of these carriers in developing its product. One current Atreus user, Canada's Aliant Inc. (Toronto: AIT), says the relationship and technology are living up to expectations.
"They're willing to work with us," says Alan Kimberly, senior architect of Aliant's Core Business Systems division. He says Aliant turned to Atreus initially for help getting a service portal working, then decided to expand its work with the startup to include some made-to-order elements.
A host of other vendors is just starting to look at the importance of branching out across the range of third-party VPN gear.
Among these is SmartPipes, which just received $51 million in new funding (see SmartPipes Channels In $51M) and also is working to help speed up deployment of managed IP services.
SmartPipes' Web-based software at present works with Cisco routers only, but it works with a much wider range of Cisco products than does Atreus's -- specifically, all routers from the 800 through 7200 series. SmartPipes will be using its new funding to forge links to other devices used in today's managed IP networks.
Other companies in this space include Alopa Networks Inc., focused on VOIP (voice over IP) service activation; and BroadJump Inc., which is setting up physical connectivity for broadband services. BroadJump has gotten financing from Nortel and has worked with that vendor to augment the third-party provisioning capabilities of its Shasta 5000 Broadband Services Node (see Nortel Enhances Shasta Box).
Another vendor, Emperative Inc., says it's working on extending its Sonet and DWDM provisioning software to Gigabit Ethernet equipment for metro services. "Ethernet means VLANs, and VLANs require management of multiple end points and multiple levels of service, often with end users within the same organization utilizing different QOS settings," says spokesman Colin Sullivan. He says Emperative's on track to demonstrate its new GigE capabilities at tradeshows this spring (see Emperative Shows Optical's Future).
All this progress doesn't indicate any solidification of product boundaries. Indeed, in the world of carrier management and provisioning software, products are touted as fluid and customizable. Atreus could conceivably be used in tandem with any of its competitors' wares. Also, it could be hooked into inventory management systems from the likes of Granite Systems Inc. or provisioning software from companies like Syndesis Ltd.
— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading