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VoIP Systems

Cisco Integrates Session Control

In a move thought inevitable by many, a session border controller is getting integrated into a router.

Today, (Nasdaq: CSCO) plans to announce it's adding a session border controller (SBC) to the XR 12000 router, the edge router based on the new IOS XR operating system. The technology, which will be available to all XR 12000 models, is in trials now, with production shipments slated for the first quarter of 2006.

It's one of a cluster of announcements coinciding with Cisco's Worldwide Analyst Conference, which convenes tomorrow in California.

Some observers have long believed that other boxes could subsume basic SBC functions. It doesn't have to be routers: (Nasdaq: SONS) has melded SBCs and softswitches. (See Session Controllers: Limited Lifespan?, Sonus Takes Session Control, and Session Controllers Walk the Runway.)

Naturally, Cisco likes the router argument.

"This is an integral function, just like Layer 2 VPNs or Layer 3 VPNs. Session border control becomes another function inside the router," says Suraj Shetty, a director of marketing for Cisco's routing and service provider technology group.

The surprising part is that Cisco didn't follow the lead of (Nasdaq: JNPR), which acquired SBC startup Kagoor Networks in May. Speculation about Cisco buying an SBC startup dates back to 2003, but Cisco says its technology was developed in-house. (See Juniper to Acquire Kagoor, Juniper Completes Kagoor, Redline Buys, and NexTone in Tune With Cisco?)

But Cisco's move doesn't necessarily spell doom for vendors of SBCs, says Kevin Mitchell, director of marketing for (and until recently an analyst with Infonetics Research Inc.).

"Session border controllers incorporate a lot of functionality now. It's not just about NAT [network address translation] or firewall transversal," Mitchell says. "There are a lot of other security elements and high availability elements."

SBCs are considered vital to VOIP services, as they preserve the signaling that sets up a real-time session. That information can otherwise be lost because certain signaling protocols such as SIP or H.323 -- the two that Cisco highlights in today's announcement -- can't get past NAT or firewall boxes.

An SBC typically sits at the junction of two networks. In the case of the XR 12000, Cisco expects to see the technology go in the local loop, where the customer and service provider networks touch, or at peering points between service providers, says Peter Clarke, another Cisco director of marketing.

Clarke says Cisco plans to add session border controllers to "a broader set of platforms" -- i.e., other routers -- but the company isn't yet saying which ones.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

trzwuip 12/5/2012 | 2:51:55 AM
re: Cisco Integrates Session Control Thx.
voyce_overipee 12/5/2012 | 2:51:54 AM
re: Cisco Integrates Session Control Lots of reasons, like the signaling protocol uses ip addresses both in its signaling messages themselves in lots of fields, plus for media addressing in the invite or setup. H.323 has a bigger problem because it uses TCP and creates a new connection for each call, so inbound calls can be started from outside the NAT. And sip has to keep the NAT hole open for inbound calls. And both have the media problem that the rtp will be coming from a different NAT port number that isn't known until it starts flowing, and media in the reverse direction has to use that same hole to get in.

H.323 has a couple specs to fix it but no one seems to offer them yet, and sip is relying on stun/turn/ice and no one offers all of them yet either. plus they need the clients to support them while SBCs work with legacy clients.
alchemy 12/5/2012 | 2:51:50 AM
re: Cisco Integrates Session Control Craig Matsumoto writes:
This seems like an obvious step, merging the SBC into a router.

I guess it's an obvious step if you sell routers for a living and want all your customers to do forklift upgrades of the edge routers they've already deployed. Brilliant!

Cisco routers already don't have the carrier class attributes you'd expect of them like full redundancy and live hardware and software update. When you put mission critical stateful functions like VoIP session control on your Cisco router, you're going to have your customer support lines light up every time you have to reboot your router.

I wouldn't bank on SBCs vanishing overnight, though -- there must still be cases where a separate session border controller makes sense for the short- and even medium-term, yes? What technological direction should these session controller startups take to ensure survival?

In an IMS architecture, the P-CSCF could very well be an SBC. It's your access into the walled garden. You also have to put an SBC at any peering point in the IMS network to monitor SLAs and ensure that your peer doesn't damage your network.

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 2:51:50 AM
re: Cisco Integrates Session Control This seems like an obvious step, merging the SBC into a router.

I wouldn't bank on SBCs vanishing overnight, though -- there must still be cases where a separate session border controller makes sense for the short- and even medium-term, yes? What technological direction should these session controller startups take to ensure survival?
zher 12/5/2012 | 2:51:44 AM
re: Cisco Integrates Session Control alchemy, have you ever heard of IOX?
materialgirl 12/5/2012 | 2:51:43 AM
re: Cisco Integrates Session Control We have heard of IOX. It was designed for a gigantic core box and has since been half-sized. Is it on enough gear to populate a network now? Is it battle proven yet?
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