Simplest of Boxes Get Smart, Too

No vendor today can be unaware of network operators' growing interest in smart features.

No vendor today can be unaware of network operators growing interest in smart features.

Witness the latest transformation: Tiara Networks, the maker of leased-line aggregation devices with a laundry list of large customers, talks "distributed edge" architecture. On a repositioning tour, Tiara executives are pitching the idea that their boxes, which allow customers, including Cable & Wireless and Everest Broadband Networks, to combine the bandwidth of several leased T1 lines into one near-DS-3 (45 megabits per second) capacity pipe, could also act as a conduit for intelligence layer services.

"Distributed networking is something very similar to distributed computing, where you have smaller high-end servers at the business center actually processing all this data and feeding it to the mainframe computer," says Kash Mitra, Tiaras vice president of corporate development. "In the same way Tiara is focused on designing small, compact, high-density platforms which can be rolled out quickly and cost-effectively."

Platforms that allow gee-whiz services like bandwidth shaping, quality-of-service traffic monitoring and collection of traffic data.

Why go there? Tiara wants to ride the wave of carriers getting into more advanced services as it finds itself deployed in various telecom markets: with building local exchange companies (BLECs) like eLink Communications and Everest, international players like C&W, and at Internet service providers.

The logical evolution of the services these carriers will offer leaves little doubt that its a market worth pursuing, say executives like Mitra.

Customers, including eLinks chief technical officer Audrey Curtis, are a bit surprised to see Tiara make a play for the intelligence layer services support, but in general approve of the new direction.

ELink is a BLEC in an elite category of telecom companies that still are capable of raising money from venture capitalists. The Bethesda, Md., carrier claims 700 business customers and recently gathered $70 million to grow its operations.

But eLink, which wires office buildings with fiber-optic networks that allow it to offer customers various Internet Protocol-based services, has an on-going networking problem common for many carriers.

"In our architecture, in addition to having a point-of-presence in a city, we in essence establish a mini-POP in the communications closet of each of the commercial buildings that we go into," Curtis says.

ELink already puts in a certain level of intelligence into its the mini-POPs that allows it to manage the bandwidth and the security within the building. But as more of the mini-POPs come online, its current network intelligence model forces eLink to manage users in these buildings centrally, making management of the entire network progressively more challenging. ELink is gradually bringing management of these users and mini-POPs further out to the edge, stream- lining its intelligence infrastructure. This direction is making room for some of the services that Tiara is pitching.

"For those POPs in the smaller markets, where Tiara is the primary equipment that we have got, we see in the long run using their bandwidth management and quality-of-service features," Curtis says. "But not this year."