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Policy + charging

BT Claims VPN Breakthrough

In an effort to attract and hang on to lucrative enterprise customers, BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) has developed a new, enhanced IP VPN management system that gives the carrier's IP VPN customers greater self-help capabilities. (See BT, Tazz Tackle VPNs.)

BT has developed the system -- known as ICT-ADQ (Information and Communications Technology - Application Driven Quality of Service) and currently installed only in the carrier's R&D facilities -- with policy management system provider Tazz Networks Inc. , a long time collaborator that also has a role in the carrier's next-generation network (21CN) plans. (See BT, Tazz Team on IP Services and BT's 21CN: Metro Partners Under Wraps .)

The platform, say BT and Tazz, is a policy-based service management system that enables an enterprise customer to control the class-of-service (COS) settings for its IP VPN in real time while maintaining service-level agreements (SLAs) across it, no matter how many branch offices it may be connecting.

Tazz says the systems allows users to treat specific applications differently by manipulating a variety of policy control settings related to network usage levels, bandwidth availability, and agreed service-level enhancement options. For example, a user could reallocate available bandwidth to specific applications, depending on current needs, and even alter their aggregate bandwidth allocation (dependent on availability) to meet specific application needs.

The result, say BT and Tazz, is an MPLS-based VPN service that can react in real time to customer, application, and network events based on policy levels set in the customer's SLA.

"BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS) recently announced three static types of MPLS service recently, where the customer is pretty much just getting a link, and that's mainly what's on offer today," says Tazz's marketing director, Richard Cardone. "BT is looking at what comes next with multiple applications running across IP VPNs, and how customers can protect the performance of their critical applications and drive their own services...

"We're talking about being able to increase bandwidth allocation in real time for a specific application, such as company-wide video broadcast. At present, allocating and increasing bandwidth to smaller branch sites across current VPNs, or installing satellite links, can take weeks and cost a lot of money. With this system, an IT administrator can manage everything" from a central control point and at very short notice, boasts Cardone, who says the Tazz system communicates with network probes that can determine bandwidth availabilty across the multiple network connections that would need to be managed.

"We're addressing this now because increasing levels of our business is with major corporate network customers, which can have thousands of sites based in many different countries," says John Wittgreffe, BT's ICT research chief who leads R&D projects for corporate customers. Growing revenues from corporates, regarded by the operator as "New Wave" customers, has long been an aim of BT as it seeks to address the attrition of its legacy voice service revenue base. (See 'New Wave' Drives BT, BT Inks ICT Deal With HP, and BT Bolsters Its ICT Story.)

"Basically, these customers just want their applications to work, but sometimes they can experience problems even if it looks like the network and all its elements are all functioning correctly and service-level agreements are being met. That's because increasing numbers of applications are using the same connections and are causing performance degradation. So we're moving from network-based SLAs to applications-based SLAs, and we need the ability to configure VPNs on demand to meet these new SLAs," says Wittgreffe.

He says Tazz's technology is important in this respect, because "if there is a run on the network, it enables the flexing of network capabilities at short notice, as Tazz's system can determine what can be changed and altered, and what is and isn't allowed under the SLAs."

Wittgreffe says the ICT-ADQ system will be tested inhouse and trialed with various enterprise customers in the coming months, but probably won't be commercially available for another two to three years. "We have products in place that act as a stepping stone, such as QOS mechanisms over our MPLS core network and various service assurance products, but what Tazz brings is the ability to manage a VPN in real time."

But are such capabilities in demand? Chris Lewis, a principal analyst at consultancy Ovum Ltd. , says "some users want to change everything, but most just want a window on their applications to see how they are performing. And carriers don't really want everyone messing around with their services. We conducted a survey of enterprise VPN users recently that showed only 10 percent of them with the ability to implement class-of-service capabilities had actually done so."

He adds that "this sounds like another level of granularity that will allow BT to deliver services on an even more customized basis. BT is already addressing some of these issues with existing products, such as its applications-centric VPN, based on Ipanema Technologies . It sounds like the development with Tazz is another string to BT's bow. The Ipanema-based service is just starting to ramp up -- it sounds like the Tazz-based service is one that BT can add in the future."

BT's Wittgreffe agrees that most enterprises "just want everything to work," and not have to bother with intricate VPN management, but he adds that "business requirements are changing. Users are demanding increasing levels of flexibility and customization."

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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