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The Policy Server Qualification Tsunami

When breaking the news about CableLabs' Certification Wave 34 results yesterday, CDN's Alan Breznick noted that five different PacketCable Multimedia (PCMM) policy servers were qualified during the first-ever round of testing. The winners were CableMatrix, Camiant, C-COR, Tazz Networks, and Telcordia. Additionally, Motorola's BSR64000 cable modem termination system (CMTS) was qualified for PCMM support. For any of us who have watched CableLabs certification/qualification activities over the years, it's an understatement to call this a surprise. It's rare that one or two vendors make the grade in the first go around at CableLabs, let alone five. Clearly, CableLabs has managed to get its ducks in a row when it comes to creating test plans for new PacketCable network elements. It's also obvious that building a policy server that meets CableLabs' specs is a cake walk, compared to products like call management servers (CMSs) and CMTSs. Indeed, essentially all that is tested is an in-out COPS interface between the policy server and CMTS, as well as a PCMM interface from the policy server to an application manager. Acknowledging this reality, one cable IP technologist mocked the hype around policy servers during a conversation with me at the National Show this month, calling them simply 'CMTS controllers.' There is some truth to that notion, but because of the power of PCMM, the policy server will in fact become an incredibly strategic network element. The takeaway is this. In their initial PacketCable NCS-based VoIP rollouts to date, several major MSOs have not yet achieved full dynamic quality of service (DQoS) implementations. As a result, they are seriously considering the idea of using PCMM DQoS (enabled by policy servers) to create a unified management and control domain for all high-value IP applications that run over their DOCSIS 1.1+ data networks. This includes NCS-based VoIP, plus SIP voice and video communications, as well as streaming media and gaming services. So, while it's true that building a basic policy server that can earn PCMM qualification from CableLabs may not be difficult, creating a real policy server product that meets MSO requirements for availability, scalability and manageability is an entirely different matter. Another key factor will be whether policy server vendors can deliver an open, integrated application management platform that enables MSOs to quickly and easily deploy new IP services. In the balance of 2005, PCMM will move from a trial phase to initial limited deployments. Look for larger-scale rollouts in 2006. The CableLabs policy server qualifications this week are a key milestone on the PCMM roadmap.
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