Triggering a New Control Plane
The sticking point, obviously, is that no equipment vendor has an interest in doing such a thing. Avici tried giving it a go, relaunching as Soapstone Networks. Its control-plane software, first aimed at Carrier Ethernet, is now in the hands of Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR), where the multivendor potential isn't what's being emphasized. That's understandable. (See Extreme Puts Soapstone to Work.)
Tail-f Systems , though, is a software company that doesn't have a stake in any type of equipment. It sells configuration software, and its NCS software opens some interesting possibilities.
Tail-f describes NCS as a framework for developing configuration management software. A specific example is NCS for Carrier Ethernet, released last week. (See Tail-f Configures Carrier Ethernet.)
NCS uses the Netconf protocol -- which is relatively new but is used in some high-profile spots, such as Junos Space from Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) -- to talk to network equipment. In this case, NCS handles configuration -- meaning, an equipment provider can use NCS to create a user interface that masks the nuts and bolts of service provisioning.
Now take that idea a step further. If enough equipment speaks Netconf, then something like NCS could be the basis for configuring multiple vendors' boxes -- an all-in-one software interface tapping an operator's entire network.
Carl Moberg, Tail-f's COO, agrees that this would be a logical direction. But getting there requires some leaps of thinking. Tail-f's customers for now are the equipment vendors, which won't be so keen on this idea. Tail-f also has the ear of some service providers -- but this would be new territory for them, too, an area that would call for more programmers rather than just script writers.
"I'm unclear on what the triggering factors are for a second step," Moberg says.
Even so, as Service Provider Information Technology (SPIT) rises in importance, the circumstances could start falling into place. Moberg likens NCS's situation to the rise of the SQL language in the 1970s; without it, every application had its own way to access a relational database. Likewise, today, every vendor's network equipment gets configured separately. It just makes sense that something more universal should emerge.
— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading