Startup Looks to Fix the Internet With New Router Technology

128 Technology officials say the company's session-aware routers will improve network performance and cost in ways SDN and NFV can't.


The Internet was not made for today's world.

The networking infrastructure that underpins the Internet in many ways isn't much different than it was more than two decades ago, and the packet-processing functionality that networks have been designed for isn't working as well in a time of cloud computing and mobility, with a broad range of new applications moving between clouds and security demands growing.

Even emerging technologies like software-defined networking (SDN) and network-functions virtualization (NFV) are essentially doing little more than adding overlays and complexity to an outdated network infrastructure, according to officials with 128 Technology.

Officials with the Massachusetts startup, which came out of stealth mode this week, believe they have developed a fundamentally new approach to routing that that will reduce the complexity and improve the performance of networks, enabling them to address the changing demands of the modern world.

"Recent calls to reinvent the Internet—or start over—are increasing in frequency and volume," 128 Technology co-founder and CEO Andy Ory wrote in a blog post introducing the company. "There are big problems with the world's networks, but the suggested solutions available today are complex in their own right, and merely incremental. The real challenge is that we need to transform the existing infrastructure from the inside WITHOUT discarding what's currently deployed."

The Internet took off after the industry standardized on the TCP/IP stack 25 years ago, but there hasn't been much innovation done in routing since, Ory wrote, adding that "today's networks are built on the same fundamental protocols put in place decades ago before anyone could envision current demands, never mind what we need for the next few decades."

Networks were originally designed to move IP packets from one place to another via routers, which chose the shortest path for the packets. Over the years, as demands on networks increased to handle other tasks—such as security and network awareness—more technologies needed to be added to supplement what the routers could do. Those included firewalls, load balancers, deep packet inspection and Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), which added to the complexity of the network, hindered performance and increased costs.

As enterprises and service providers have looked to create more flexible, programmable and automated networks, they've turned to SDN, NFV and software-defined WANs (SD-WANs), which come with their own challenges, according to Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT. They put overlays on existing networking infrastructures, which does little to reduce the complexity or the shortcomings of traditional networks.

"Add to that the fact that many of the SDN solutions that networking and virtualization vendors offer are designed to minimally disrupt or substantially expand their own legacy offerings," King wrote in a research note about 128 Technology. "That's not especially surprising but it's also akin to expecting an out-of-shape fellow to design and oversee his own diet and fitness regimen. Better results usually come with the help of experts who understand underlying problems and balancing short-term tradeoffs for long-term benefits, and are not [beholden] to any particular status quo."

That's where 128 Technology comes in. Company officials are proposing its Secure Vector Routing technology, which is a session-based networking solution that would enable routers to not only send traffic from the same session down the best paths, but also monitor and secure that traffic and give complete visibility to services and applications.

The company's software routers, which can run on x86 systems are compatible with existing networks, would address the key points that officials said need to be addressed by modern networks. Not only should they be session-aware and reduce the need for such functions as firewalls and load balancers, but routers should be application- and service-centric and zero-trust security must be a priority. In addition, overlay networks are not the answer.

"128 Technology says that its approach offers material benefits that network owners badly need by dramatically reducing complexity and cost," King wrote. "It achieves this in large part by eliminating overlay networks and making middlebox functions native, resulting in networks that are more agile and secure, easier to manage and less costly to build and operate."

The startup, founded two years ago, comes with a lot of experience behind it. Ory and co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Patrick MeLampy in 2000 founded Acme Packet, a pioneer in session border control (SBC) technologies, and left after Oracle bought the company in 2013 for $1.7 billion. Such a background "should pique serious interest in potential customers, including enterprises, [service providers] and cloud providers, and careful concern among conventional networking vendors," King wrote.