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Metaswitch Picks a Fight With Acme Packet

IP protocol specialist launches its own session border controller platform and goes head-to-head with market leader and partner Acme Packet

September 13, 2011

5 Min Read
Metaswitch Picks a Fight With Acme Packet

In what CTO Martin Taylor describes as "our most significant new in-house product development for years," next-generation network systems supplier Metaswitch Networks has launched its own session border controller (SBC) product called Perimeta, a move that pitches it in head-to-head with current partner and SBC market leader Acme Packet Inc. (Nasdaq: APKT).

Taylor tells Light Reading the company believes it has a platform tailor-made for the IP traffic management challenges that the world's mobile operators are about to face and that Metaswitch believes it can be the No. 2 market vendor by 2013.

But hold on -- isn't Metaswitch already in the SBC market?

Yes, but not with its own product. To date its Data Connection Ltd. (DCL) SBC software stack has been licensed to equipment vendors, which have used it to build their own SBCs or integrate SBC functionality into other products, such as edge routers. (See DCL Opens Session Controller Sector.)

In addition, Metaswitch has also been a reseller of Acme Packet's products, with some degree of success, for some years (with hundreds of units deployed).

Now, though, the Metaswitch team believes the SBC market is about to undergo a major change and experience significant growth in the coming years, fuelled by demand mainly from mobile operators that, ultimately, will migrate their current circuit-switched voice assets to VoIP and, consequently, need SBCs to manage their network-edge interconnections.

And it's not just Metaswitch that holds that view: Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) launched its first standalone SBC earlier this year to capitalize on the same market shift. (See AlcaLu Takes On Acme With SBC Launch.)

On the Perimeta
So what's Metaswitch's pitch? Well, it believes it has developed a "new class" of SBC, built on ATCA hardware and multi-core CPUs, with independent scaling of signaling and media capacity, and designed with discrete software modules for the signaling and media processing capabilities. This means the box can be set up as an integrated device or as a distributed single-function device that handles either just the signaling or just the media (also known as a decomposed architecture).

If a decomposed architecture is preferable, then all the capacity can support the installed software module, which Metaswitch claims is a first for the SBC sector. "We have always viewed signaling and media as having to scale separately. It happened in softswitches. Signaling and media don't grow at the same rate and we have built our SBC with this in mind from the outset," says Taylor.

The Perimeta comes in three models: the ISC (Integrated Session Controller) that supports 200,000 registered end points; the MSC (Media Session Controller) that supports 16,000 simultaneous point-to-point media flows; and the SSC (Signaling Session Controller) that supports 1 million registered end points. Metaswitch claims that a deployment of one SSC and nine distributed MSCs can support 140,000 concurrent sessions.

Sticking it to Acme
But hasn't Acme Packet been offering a decomposed option for years? (See Acme Packet Decomposes.)

Yes, says Taylor, but not in an efficient way, he claims. With Acme, "you can license the signaling and the media separately, but then you need to buy two separate pieces of hardware and two pieces of software," which results in a lot of wasted resources because "Acme's hardware is proprietary and has been architected for signaling and media" with fixed ratios of capacity for the two functions. "No one has deployed Acme in a distributed fashion [with dedicated elements for signaling and media] because it doesn't make sense to do it like that. It's priced in a way that discourages a distributed deployment."

So far, this hasn't been a major issue. "SBCs are being deployed today mainly for VoIP and the ratio [of resources assigned] for signaling and media has worked out OK. Acme has been successful and has executed well," notes Taylor.

"But things are going to change. There's going to be mobile VoIP, presence, RCS [Rich Communication Suite] applications, SMS on IP ... The signaling traffic is going to grow by an order of magnitude, and the processing power for signaling on existing boxes is pretty feeble," claims Taylor. "Our box has the heavy lifting that's needed. ... The Acme boxes, as they stand, will wilt under the pressure."

He adds: "LTE is going to change everything. There will be SIP-based services that will have little or no media associated with them, particularly presence, which will be the greatest of all in terms of signaling intensity. There's no media, just status updates."

As a result, Metaswitch expects mobile operators to drive demand and for the SBC market to grow quickly in the coming years. That, of course, is good news for the market's existing players such as Sonus Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SONS), Genband Inc. and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , as well as Acme Packet and AlcaLu, which expects the SBC market to grow from around $270 million this year to more than $400 million in 2014.

So does this mean the end for the Metaswitch/Acme Packet resale relationship? "No. We have a number of customers that use Acme's products and that have them deployed and integrated with their OSS and will continue to buy Acme. It'll be a more complex relationship, of course," adds Taylor.

And what about commercial availability? Taylor says the product started shipping in July and has orders from 28 existing Metaswitch customers, "mainly smaller wireline players that are thinking of the future and maybe want to buy into the management package that comes with the product," says the CTO. "Bigger names take longer, but we're hoping to be able to announce some soon."

In the meantime, Acme Packet, which didn't grab a 50 percent-plus share of the SBC market by sitting on its hands and hoping for the best, can be relied on to respond with developments of its own. The company has built a business that generates about $80 million in revenues per quarter and growing, and it boasts 90 of the world's biggest 100 service providers among its extensive customer base -- a customer base it's clearly going to protect fiercely. (See Acme Packet Reports Q2.)

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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