VPLS: Very Painful, Long & Slow
The startup service provider has found some early adopters for its virtual private LAN services (VPLS), too. But along the way, the challenges of getting them up and running have made their way 'round the pub. Especially the case of one customer that paid for VPLS for 355 days before daring to actually use the service.
The gap shows just how wary service providers can be of the new "converged" network, said Masergy CEO Barry Nalls, speaking at yesterday's Light Reading Live: Convergence 2004 conference.
The conference, held on the eve of Supercomm, was the sequel to a similar session in January (see The Softer Side of Convergence). The theme was the converging of carriers' and large enterprises' multiple networks to a single IP/MPLS architecture, an idea that would save money but faces significant challenges in software and management.
Masergy discovered as much after launching worldwide VPLS offerings at Supercomm 2003 (see Masergy Launches VPLS Service). Take the case of the 355-day client. "They still weren't sure what they were going to do with [VPLS] and how they were going to manage it operationally," Nalls said.
Other customers have been cautious about migrating to a newfangled converged network, even if they embrace the concept. Nalls gave the example of a multisite enterprise that decided to "rip out every single piece of their [installed] infrastructure" in favor of using Masergy, after a trial that connected London, New York, and Washington.
That was a win for Masergy, but the customer didn't leap into convergence without a parachute. The resulting contract dictated where Masergy's future points of presence (POPs) would be and how it would interconnect with other carriers. The document totaled 143 pages (eight to 10 is typical, Nalls said) including 25 pages of service-level agreements. Masergy had won the contract in December and didn't get the customer's network activated until the end of May.
Customers are right to worry about the resilience of the converged network. Mangement tools and software are both lacking for MPLS, compared with the ATM network -- a conclusion shared by yesterday's panelists as well as those at the January version of Convergence 2004. Because resilience and quality of service (QOS) vary by implementation, carriers are going to have to look to equipment vendors to help provide the answers, said conference moderator Geoff Bennett, chief technologist for Heavy Reading.
A separate problem lies in getting the new network to connect to other carriers -- something that's stymied Masergy repeatedly. Nalls blames the tyranny of standards such as RFC 2547 for virtual private networks. "I'm not a fan of standards, because they're slow and they're mediocre for what we need."
In one case, Nalls claimed, Masergy found it would have to "dummy down" its network capabilities by 80 percent in order to connect a customer to South Africa. Similar problems cropped up when the customer wanted a connection into India. "We had to build our own POPs because we could not interconnect with another carrier -- and believe me, we want to. In Moscow, we gave up and just built a long local loop from Moscow to London. Now that's a local loop."
Nalls believes customers like VPLS and that deployment will get easier as more carriers begin offering it. One key is to sell to the enterprise's need for connectivity rather than emphasize the acronyms involved. "They're looking for a partner in their projects," rather than for a technology, he said.
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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