Convergence Vendors Improve Control Features
Telecommunications vendors and service providers have been pushing Internet Protocol-based products and converged networking for some time now, but they have discovered that network managers want to be able to differentiate among voice, data and video traffic, and control each path separately with varying degrees of quality of service, even if it is all moving through the same pipe. Increasingly, the convergence peddlers are adding increased control functions to their products and services.
This week, Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., added more intelligence to its midrange, LAN switching platform, the Catalyst 4000, which is part of the Architecture for Voice, Video and Integrated Data, or AVVID, product line. With the new Supervisor Engine III control module, Catalyst 4000 users have greater density, improved traffic control and policing on every port.
Previously, the Catalyst 4000 "wasnt able to keep up with the density that was being deployed with Gigabit Ethernet," said Steven Shalita, senior manager of product marketing for Gigabit systems at Cisco. "Customers are looking for more levels of control, more granular control. You can now have quality-of-service characteristics without reducing the performance of the switch. With this, there is no sacrifice."
Verizon Communications Inc. began reselling Ciscos AVVID products this week, with data transport services targeted at large enterprises. The local exchange carrier touts its ancient roots in telephony -- its familiarity with networks and physical sites and its network integration experience -- as an asset for avoiding difficulties in implementing IP infrastructure.
"One of the primary advantages we have is that we know the questions to ask," said Eric Bruno, vice president of IP Offer Management at Verizons Enterprise Solutions Group in Irving, Texas. "If we say its good and its a fit, it is because its good and its a fit, not because we dont have anything else to sell."
To give enterprises a closer look at whats going on behind the scenes of the IP virtual private network services it offers, WorldCom Group launched a Web-based performance monitoring service -- free for existing IP VPN customers. The VPN Interactive Performance Reporting, or Viper, system lets users see daily, weekly, monthly and annual reports of tunnel availability, latency and packet loss, among other metrics.
"Viper is removing the sheets and letting the customer look underneath them," said Audrey Wells, senior manager of VPN services at WorldCom. "Its kind of like giving control back to the customer."
Previously, WorldComs IP VPN users saw only a single report with average network performance metrics. The deeper glimpse into the WorldCom service delivery does not change the service-level agreement offerings, which are based on averages, however. Viper is available only for fully managed Lucent-based systems today, but by midyear it will be available on Cisco-based systems, Wells said.
To make it possible for IP telephony service providers using different protocols (Session Initiation Protocol, H.323 and Megaco/H.248) to terminate each others traffic, CommWorks Corp. of Rolling Meadows, Ill., added two protocol mediation modules for its softswitch. The softswitch allows carriers to separate call processing from the gateway, making the call control independent of the transport medium (wireless or wireline, narrowband or broadband) and giving them more flexibility in adding services incrementally.
"The whole goal is to bring Internet-style creativity to the traditional telephone network," said Houman Modarres, director of the softswitch unit at CommWorks. "For the enterprise, they can expect managed, converged services from service providers."
The companies made these announcements at the Comnet Conference & Expo in Washington.