Packet inspection/traffic management

Caspian Plays Fair

First Caspian Networks Inc. was a core-router contender; then it brought out the Flow-Based Networking concept. Now, the six-year-old company is taking another crack at the spotlight by touting itself as a possible answer to the net neutrality debate.

Caspian is talking up a scheme called the Fair Use Policy Framework, saying it's an alternative to the deep packet inspection sold by Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and others for managing bandwidth on carrier networks. Caspian has discussed Fair Use for some time, but this week it's intensifying the PR blitz by touting Fair Use as a potential peacemaker in the net neutrality fray.

Somehow, Caspian resisted calling the technology Fair Use Networking (FUN!) or Fair Use Routing (competitors' FUD could read: "Don't wear FUR").

To be fair about Fair Use, Caspian says it's emphasizing the idea because of the success it's seeing in Asia. In Korea, for example, Fair Use has kept government networks from being congested after access was opened to the public.

"When we came out with this stuff last year, the response in Asia was great and the interest in the U.S. was high," says Junaid Islam, Caspian's vice president of marketing.

And that brings Caspian to the network neutrality fray. The concept, you'll recall, has to do with whether carriers must treat all network traffic the same way. VOIP providers, for example, are concerned they'll get lower priority from carriers, or be cut from the network entirely -- although the RBOCs have said that wouldn't be the case. (See AT&T Sets Up Internet Tollbooths and Whitacre, Martin Line Up on Neutrality.)

Phone companies have suggested levying fees for guaranteed quality of service (QOS), a proposal that's only intensified the debate. (See Google Grouses on Net Neutrality, Are Operators Ready for QOS Fees?, and LR Poll: Net 'Squatters' Should Pay.)

Dealing bandwidth
So, here's how the Caspian plan works. The central tenet of Fair Use is to "figure out the optimal mix among all output flows," Islam says.

Caspian first divides available bandwidth among all users, making sure each flow is assigned the minimum bandwidth it needs. Even without deep packet inspection, Caspian can recognize flow types well enough to do this -- video has a different pattern of packets than VOIP, for example, and the router would know video needs more bandwidth than voice.

Once that's done, Caspian adds the paid premium services and any emergency services -- those dictated by the U.S. Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), for instance. The necessary bandwidth is siphoned off from other users' allotments, but without letting any service go below its minimum bandwidth threshhold.

The process theoretically collapses if, say, there are so many users that no one can get enough bandwidth from the router. But that doesn't happen in real life, Caspian claims.

"I've never been in a network where the number of users relative to the bandwidth is so great that it [the bandwidth] approaches zero," Islam says. "What usually happens is that the percentage of users that are actually on the network is quite low."

And that's where some of the magic lies, because Caspian can allocate idle bandwidth to the services that need it most. "All of the bandwidth is allocated all of the time to all of the customers," Islam says.

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Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:58:00 AM
re: Caspian Plays Fair I know some of you are deeply concerned about deep packet inspection and the assigning of QOS. So, what do you think of the Caspian answer? Does it address your concerns, or just bring up new ones?
Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:58:00 AM
re: Caspian Plays Fair Not that it's at all relevant, but the phrase "Fair Use" comes up a lot in another contentious area: music sampling.


Or, if you don't want to look at so many words:


Hey, maybe Caspian plans to start doing experimental sound collages. Or not.
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