Extreme Puts Soapstone to Work

Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR) is ready to trot out the fruits of its Soapstone Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SOAP) acquisition, using the technology to put service management on top of its own EPICenter element and network manager.

The result, called Ridgeline Service Advisor, will be in beta this month and in production release during the third quarter, Extreme reveals today.

The announcement points to the increased importance of services to the carrier market, and to the ways in which equipment vendors will be competing on a Service Provider Information Technology (SPIT) front. (See The SPIT Manifesto.)

"Software is how companies are going to be differentiating themselves in the future," says Mark Showalter, director of service provider marketing at Extreme, which has just reported its fiscal third-quarter results. (See Extreme Posts Q3.)

In a sense, it's also a continuing chapter in the epic tale of Soapstone, which itself came from the dying embers of core-router startup Avici Networks.

Soapstone had hoped to develop control-plane software that allowed provisioning of services through multiple vendors' boxes, and the Soapstone/Extreme combination had already been pitched to some carrier prospects. Soapstone didn't make it, though, and, as the company liquidated last summer, Extreme purchased its assets. (See Soapstone Washes Out and Extreme Lathers Up Soapstone Plans.)

Ridgeline will give carriers a point-and-click interface for creating Ethernet services, such as E-LAN and E-Line connections. The interface also lets the carrier see what paths the services trace through the network -- information that's not always obvious and that can indicate what services are affected when a node fails. The software makes it easier to add new services without affecting the quality of the services already running.

Ridgeline is tailored to work with Ethernet Automatic Protection Switching (EAPS), Extreme's technology for fault tolerance in Carrier Ethernet. (It replaces the Spanning Tree Protocol, basically.) Extreme is proud of the technology, but it can take 20 commands to provision an EAPS domain, Showalter says. Ridgeline would provision EAPS's active and backup paths automatically.

What Extreme is leaving out is the multi-vendor potential of the Soapstone software. Even so, Extreme thinks the software gives it a broader perspective, even compared with companies such as Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR), which have been talking a lot about services provisioning. "They're focused on the box, not really on the end-to-end view," Showalter contends.

Showalter flags AlcaLu as being particularly advanced in network management, but a more direct comparison to Ridgeline might lie with Juniper's Ethernet Activator software.

The primary difference is that Juniper's software is "more geared for bigger types of networks and supports more devices," says Ray Mota, an analyst with ACG Research . In his opinion, that creates a ready-made niche for Extreme: bringing this kind of services awareness to the Tier 2 and Tier 3 masses.

Extreme seems to be leaning that way, given that Ridgeline starts at about $20,000 for a 20-node installation. "We've given ourselves the ability to start small with the software," Showalter says.

"I think they want to try to not make the mistake Soapstone did, trying to solve all the issues at once," Mota says. "Soapstone was ahead of its time with that, to be honest with you. What they were trying to do was smart, just ahead of its time."

Mota thinks Ridgeline is a big move for Extreme and could be an advantage if the company can score some contract wins quickly, before service-management software becomes more common and more advanced.

"You're managing that particular service, not just a box, and in that sense, it's hard to displace," Mota says. "If Extreme gets in there early, they get account control. If they can have some good success they could lock in with a Tier 3 or Tier 2."

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 4:37:26 PM
re: Extreme Puts Soapstone to Work

The compelling thing about Soapstone was the multivendor control plane idea. Ray Mota says that's still available in Ridgeline but it's not something Extreme wants to emphasize, understandably.

Is it still too early for someone to try developing a multivendor control plane?  And who would do it -- I'm not sure the startups have much incentive (although Cyan, in the packet-optical space, keeps nodding their heads whenever I mention the idea).

chechaco 12/5/2012 | 4:37:17 PM
re: Extreme Puts Soapstone to Work

The bigger question, to me, is the future of PBB-TE, technology that Soapstone put their bets on. It could be point'n'click provisioning, multi-vendor support but with Nortel, main driving force behind PBB-TE vagon, gone I don't see PBB-TE retaining market share, mind share if compared with MPLS-TP.

chechaco 12/5/2012 | 4:37:17 PM
re: Extreme Puts Soapstone to Work

"Ridgeline is tailored to work with Ethernet Automatic Protection Switching (EAPS), Extreme's technology for fault tolerance in Carrier Ethernet. (It replaces the Spanning Tree Protocol, basically.)"

This is not technically correct. xSTP is used in general meshed switched Ethernet networks to dynamically produce loop free tree/path. EAPS is used only in Ethernet rings where loop free path is created by assigning primary and secondary port roles, e.g. through configuration. EAPS (RFC 3619) is more efficient in regard to protection switchover though the switchover time is function of number of VLANs and nodes on protected ring.

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 4:37:10 PM
re: Extreme Puts Soapstone to Work

Thanks for the clarification, chechaco.  I did know EAPS is meant only for rings but didn't write my description specifically enough.

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